I Only Have Eyes For You by B.L. Smith

I Only Have Eyes For You
by B.L. Smith

0800 Hours Monday
05.19.3515 Corneas

The Internal Communications Core (ICC) on sub-level 56b was ablaze with activity. Seven terminal chairs were occupied by seven bodies, all busily monitoring different levels of interplanetary communications. Tom2036 explained the details of the position as he and Alex ambled around the circular room. Tom2036 is a short, rotund man who walked with a rolling gait. He is the (SAC) Section Administrative Chief for all three shifts of the CORE communications room on Corneas.

“It’s usually very busy during the day but it will be much quieter on your 2300 to 0700 graveyard shift, Alex.” The SAC said as he waved his hand across the sensor, opening the door to the Crew Chief’s sublet.

The Crew Chief’s sublet is a basic 10′ by 8′ box. In the center of the Command Console is an Ardulian black leather COM chair with AVRS (automated voice retractable system). The Command Console has a built in DSC (digital selective controller) for full-duplex front line technology transmitter/receiver voice recognition operation. It’s all operated by the independent Atlas12 Computer with Fortran77 interfaces, efficient in lateral and bilateral implementation and automatic tuned nonlinear, massively paralleled fourier detection system. Harsh overhead fluorescents automatically dimmed when the COM chair is activated. On the south wall is the TFT 5′ by 4′ plasma 3-D screen with voice activation.

“As you can see, the sublet has an independent Atlas12 with a direct link to the mainframe.” Exhaling loudly, Tom wrinkled his brow and rubbed his pink gorilla-sized hand across his chin as though in deep thought. “Our main concern at present … ” he trailed off. He stared into space as though distracted, apparently finding it difficult to choose the right words.

In an almost inaudible whisper he continued, “Your main priority will be looking for unregistered communications. We’ve had some illegal transmissions in the past and we are trying to find the Mole.”

“A mole, sir?” Alex asked, puzzled by the name.

“Yes, it’s the official code given for these situations,” Tom explained. His dark eyes hardened like stone chips. “You must report any unauthorized transmissions immediately. Do you understand, Alex?” drilled Tom, as he made direct eye contact with her. Alex nodded, trying not to look at her boss’s shiny, bald head reflecting the different colored blinking lights from the CORE’s main terminal.

“Mary3999 will bring you up to speed when you report tonight”, Tom informed her in a commanding voice. His manner had changed from informal to the stoic personage of a Section Administrative Chief. Alex noticed the difference and said, “Yes, sir.”

After shaking hands, her boss gave her a security communication badge and led her out of the ICC.

The ICC main door soundlessly slid shut behind Alex as she chuckled with relief. She was going to enjoy her new duty station. She would still have her privacy in her personal sublet. It was a promotion made in heaven; solitude and a pay raise. With the added bonus of the graveyard differential, what else could she ask for.

As she walked the corridors of sub-level 56b, Alex smiled to herself. She would spend the rest of her allotment credits for the month at the REC room. With the huge pay increase, she could now afford to go kayaking on a weekly basis. She also thought the orange colored walls and carpet on this level were a definite improvement from Level 30b’s slime-green.

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1113 Hours Monday
05.19.3515 Corneas

The REC room on 56b was packed, with almost the entire crew from the swing shift and possibly some late day shift stragglers on their lunch breaks. Alex inquired at the scheduling desk if a Halo-Room was available. The attendant told her they were all filled for the day and that she needed to book a few days in advance to reserve a room. She reserved a room for Saturday morning after her shift would end and then headed over to the juice bar that was located in the center of the room. 56b’s REC room was a domed room fitted with polished steel and suspended black cement support beams, approximately 50 feet in circumference. The juice bar was constructed of molded black polyurethane that had the appearance and function of glass, and the durability of steel. The carpet was dark mustard with a wine colored trim. She ordered a juice-stimulant and eyed the faces in the room to get a feel for her new home.

“Hey! You’re new… my name is Steve, do you mind if I sit next to you?” A tall, dark, curly haired man in his mid twenties, dressed in orange dungarees asked. Not waiting for a reply, he climbed onto the stool next to Alex.

“How’d you guess that I’m new?” Alex queried with a smile as she took a sip of her drink. She wasn’t in the mood for conversation but decided to be polite considering this was her first day on level 56b.

“You’re wearing green. This is the CORE, nobody wears green. Are you
visiting or moving up?” Steve asked, a dimple in his cheek appearing as he gave a wink.

Alex felt foolish for forgetting to change into her new uniform, realizing she was sticking out like a sore thumb. Her checks blushed with embarrassment and, suddenly, she felt like an hors d’oeuvre that was being offered to everyone in the REC room.

“Moving up…. don’t you mean down?” Gesturing with her right index finger, Alex corrected him as she pointed downwards.

“Listen doll, if you’re here it’s a promotion. We only get the cream at the CORE, if you know what I mean,” Steve implied as he smiled and moved in closer. Alex understood the signs. Steve was suggesting a sexual exchange as he touched her downward pointing finger with his thumb tip as he whispered, “can I buy you another drink?”

Alex looked into his brown eyes and then at his smile. She smiled back. Just as he leaned in closer, she said, “No.” She watched his eyes dull and his disappointment dissolve his grin. She wanted to tell him to go back to his corner and leave her alone, he was too inebriated to comprehend anything other then sex. It was pointless to continue this conversation and she decided to move to the other end of the bar.

“No? But, doll…I would make you feel really good and it won’t cost you any
leisure credits.” Steve muttered as he looked up and waggled his eyebrows.

Alex, now totally bored with the conversation, turned to look to where he was motioning. What was it with these young guys? Was she nothing more than fresh meat? Was Steve just a REC room shark? She considered giving him another assessment but dismissed the idea.

Across the REC room, directly in front of the juice-bar were the Halo-Pleasure Pods. A long line snaked around the juice-bar as workers waited. Alex stepped back, picked up her drink and started to walk away; she didn’t feel like being preyed upon by one of the local bottom feeders.

“Hey! Dolls just don’t leave when the conversation is getting interesting,” Steve slurred.

Alex glanced back sharply and said with a straight face, “This is it? This is your pickup line?” She smirked and shook her head.

Steve put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t get angry doll…”

Alex interrupted, “STOP calling me doll. I said no and I mean no.” She shoved his hand off her shoulder and marched across the room. What a jerk, she
thought. If this was the best the CORE had to offer, she would be literally living in the Halo-Rooms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2245 MONDAY
05.19.3515 Corneas

The ICC door slid open and Alex stepped into the room for her first shift. She was greeted by a petite officer. “Hi, I’m Mary. Tom asked me to bring you up to speed on our systems.” Mary pointed to the terminal chairs that sat empty.

“Are you it?” Alex asked.

“Oh no. Jerry will be arriving shortly, he had a dental appointment,” Mary smiled as she shrugged her shoulders.

Mary had a pretty grin framed by artificially red colored lips. She was slender waisted; and weighed maybe all of 98 pounds. Four feet eleven inches clad in an orange servicepersons uniform, she… had short-cropped black hair and deep green eyes, reminding Alex of a Terra-Siberian horizon on a summer’s day. A freckled nose topped off a cream colored complexion.

Alex stared into Mary’s penetrating emerald eyes and felt the immediate sexual energy. Nervously, she scanned the room looking for a safe haven to rest her eyes from this very attractive young woman. Alex guessed she was about twenty plus years old. Then, almost unconsciously, Alex glanced at Mary. She felt a knot forming in her stomach as she clenched her fist to steady her hands. She turned away quickly not wanting Mary to see her hesitation or the perspiration forming on her brow.

Alex imagined she felt Mary’s eyes trace her body as she walked to the main terminals. She could almost feel the weight of them dragging her back like an elastic band ready to snap. The thought of Mary wanting her sexually was stimulating as her heartbeat and breathing increased. Mary walked beside Alex as they circled the Core room. Alex stopped directly in front of the main screen suspended above the center console.

Mary came to stand beside her, giving Alex a prompt smile. There was a moment that she and Alex made eye contact and Alex stood frozen like a deer caught in the high beams of an airflow vehicle traveling down the Intergalactic Interstate. What seemed like an eternity was but a brief moment, suddenly lost when Mary started speaking.

Mary spoke softy, her demeanor was pleasant yet professional, lacking any ascertainable clue that she felt the same. Alex’s fantasy quickly dissolved like a stimulant capsule in a malted cherry fruit drink. Alex discretely wiped the perspiration from her palms as Mary continued to explain the system, its protocols and procedures. But the whole time she imagined the two of them in the corner, with Mary on her knees.

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0710 Hours Saturday:
05.24.3515

The sonic shower felt great on Alex’s back. Its soothing, cleansing waves massaged away the tension of her first week at the new post. The timer went off and a computer-generated female voice asked if she wished to extend the shower an extra five minutes. Alex declined and the sonic shower turned itself off. She got out and dressed quickly, combed her long dark hair and applied her prescribed revitalizer cream on her face. She hurried, knowing she had little to make her halo appointment.

Her new quarters were more spacious, issued with a full-sized bed instead of a bunk on 30b. The room’s colors were pleasant blues and ambers. It was equipped with an entertainment wall system; a full duplex screen with combined hyper-sound. She switched off the floor to ceiling 3D-video screen and said aloud, “Secure.” The door to her quarters locked behind her and the same female voice heard earlier announced, “Good morning, Alex.” as she exited.

Alex enters the REC room at 0720 hours. The place is packed to the brim with workers from the graveyard shift. She has a few extra minutes before her halo room appointment so she checks the bar menu. She orders a juice-enhancer at the bar and chats with the bartender. She wonders if the bartender is human or a Halo-Person i.e. a computer-generated hologram with 3-D motion and sound capabilities. As she studies the room, she wonders how many of the workers are in fact humanoid. It would not be surprising if the company started using Halo-workers considering the cost of maintaining 5881 humanoid workers on Corneas.

The Condarian Berry flavored drink gives Alex a quick buzz. The room feels as though it is spinning on its axis. Alex’s head starts to hammer as the aftertaste of the berry numbs her tongue. On an empty stomach, the enhancer courses through her veins slowing her heart rate and dulling her senses. Momentarily. Realizing she should have eaten something, she starts to feel a little dizzy. Alex decides to cancel her Halo-Room order. Kayaking is the only real love in Alex’s solitary life but what she needs at this moment is more demanding. It is like a monster that has to be fed and her need is mounting. She waits impatiently in line for the next unoccupied pleasure pod.

The pod is small, about five by five feet of hermetically sealed and molded plastic orange walls. The room is furnished with a bench and a small sonic sink. On the left wall is a pay-pad that reads in large red print, PIC-UR-PARTNER. She sticks her thumb on the pay-pad and a computer-generated voice asks if she wants a male or female partner. Alex chooses aloud, “Female”. A feminine voice continues seductively, “Please select hair color.” Alex picks her usual selection of light blonde with reddish highlights. Then the computer asks her to choose an eye color. She chooses light green eyes. Her next selections reveal a five foot three frame of 115 pounds and age of 20 – 25 years.

She then pushes the start button at the top of the grid. A woman matching her order appears and moves towards Alex, smiling coyly and tries to kiss her on the lips. Alex grabs the woman by her shoulders and pushes her down on her knees. Her orange uniform zipper is yanked down and the delicate sound of sucking saturates the small compartment. Alex closes her eyes as her legs are gently spread apart and she feels the tension building deep inside and begins to moan. It is over quickly. The young woman looks up at her with a very wet mouth, smiles as she licks her lips, and then fades away. The computer-generated feminine voice says, “Thank you for using PIC-UR-PARTNER. We hope we can service you again. Have a nice day.” Alex zips up her uniform and uses the sonic sink to wash her hands and face. She takes in a deep breath and whispers, “You’re welcome.” The door to the pleasure pod opens and she exits to a line of workers waiting to utilize the pod.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0611 Hours Monday
05.26.3515 Corneas

The sublet is gloomy and quiet. Alex is in her COM chair, monitoring a dispatch from Typas4 and reflecting on her prime directive ordered by Tom to look for a mole. When Alex thinks about the mole, she envisions a sightless fur ball with huge claws, tunneling deep into Corneas’ core. She and Tom are the first and best line of defense, exterminators armed with laser rifles searching within the asteroid’s catacombs for the elusive burrowing mammal.

The screen display is blinking a green coded transmission from Melessa2260. Alex hits the receiver button on her COM console and reads the dispatch:

A 1045C TRANSMISSION FROM PROCTOR7. CHECK CODING. POSSIBLE ILLEGAL ENCODED SIGNAL IN TRANSPORT. CHECK RETRO FEED GAIN FOR POSSIBLE SEMANTICALLY SINGULAR TRANSMISSION.
TIME OF TRANSMISSION: 0636 HOURS 05.26.3515. MELESSA2260. END OF MESSAGE.

Alex stares at the sender’s ID and notes the lack of a requestor number. She calls up the schedule for Proctor7 on her screen and it is on the list. It is less than ten minutes until the estimated time of the dispatch. Alex hurries out of her sublet to Mary who is sitting at the main console in the CORE room, and says, “Mary, there is a transmission coming in from Proctor7. I want you to run a Code 5.” Mary acknowledges the order, “Yes, ma’am.”

“I want to know if there is another signal encoded. Also, get the requestor number on this transmission.” She turns to Jerry6978 and instructs, “I need an immediate status log on all transmissions from Protor7, let’s say… for the last month.” Jerry nods and immediately begins the process by punching the sequence codes on his keyboard.

Alex steps back to wait for the communication from Proctor7. She watches impatiently, all the while wondering who Melessa2260 is and why has she provided this information. The communication beacon buzzes, notifying it is now tracing the Proctor7 signal. Mary announces, “Ma’am, I am picking up another encoded signal and it is unregistered. It is a compacted program and encrypted.”

“Jerry, run a diagnostic. I want to know where this signal is broadcasted from and I want that code broken.” Alex barked out her orders. As she watches, the main console screen suddenly goes blank.

Mary slams the console with her fist and yells out, “Damn!” She turns and addresses Alex with a sick look on her face, “I am sorry, ma’am, we lost the transmission.”

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0811 Hours Tuesday
05.27.3515

Tom’s office was a typical sterile representation of administrative dedication to the extreme. A smudge free tiled floor accented the dark paneled faux hardwood walls. Alex was amazed at his impeccably clean, artificially molded granite desk. It was without a trace of dust or a fingerprint. She is sitting across the desk from him, praying there were no loose hairs or skin flakes on her uniform. She is reporting immediately after her shift, as per Tom’s directive to ‘Report all intercepted illegal transmissions immediately’.

Tom looks up from reading a digital info page on a mini plastic disc screen. “So, what you’re telling me is that there have been several illegal Singular Encoded Transmissions from Proctor7 in the last month?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Alex confirmed as she watched her boss look over the information again.

“This is fucking great. Good work, Alex!” Tom grinned in delight, “what was the encoded program you downloaded?” His gray eyes twinkled in the harsh overhead lighting.

“It’s just a basic halo program, Sir. Unfortunately, we did not get it all since the signal was disconnected. Whoever sent it programmed it to disperse once any trace was detected in the singularity. It is a very clever cover using a dispatch from Proctor7.” Alex stated calmly. She was trying to appear controlled and relaxed even though she felt tense and somewhat indecisive as to the proper formality for reporting a minor offence. Usually these types of offences were turned over to security and not handled by the ICC.

“You think the unregistered transmission was not from Proctor7?” Tom asked with a concerned look.

“That’s correct, Sir. We may be looking at a black market protocol here and we will need to step up surveillance on all transmissions. This is probably your basic porn halo-graphic scam and I am checking into possible conclusions. I’ve contacted security and filled them in.” Alex reported firmly.

“To fund a scam on this level is quite expensive, no?” Tom asked, only to continue without waiting for Alex to answer, “… the perps would have to be execs or above … I mean, who else could afford this kind of service?” Tom looked questioningly at Alex. She replied, “Not necessarily, Sir. There could be a pool and may involve several station levels. I’ve ordered a stage-one diagnostic on all Halo-Rooms and Pleasure Pods for decreased usage,” Alex smirked, “if there is in fact a scam in operation it will show up in the monthly tallies, Sir.”

Tom nodded and congratulated her on a fine job and asked to be informed of any further developments.

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1100 HOURS WEDNESDAY
05.28.3515 Corneas

The afternoon crew was signing off when Alex started her shift. Mary and Jerry followed her into the ICC bay doorway. Without a word they scurried to their workstations, logged in and began monitoring transmissions.

Hours later in her sublet, Alex decided to contract this Melessa2260. In a calm clear voice she announced, “Computer, relay a message to Melessa2260.” The system responded, WORKING.

“Convey a thank you note to designated address.” Alex waited for the system to comply. The monitor printed: MELESSA2260 IS AN UNREGISTERED USER. THERE IS NO KNOWN ADDRESS. Alex exclaimed, “What?!”

She ordered a system search for Melessa2260 but it returned the same result.

Alex tried a different tactic. “Computer, at 0636 Hours 05.28.3515, did unregistered user Melessa2260 transmit a message to Corneas?” Alex asked. The computer responded: CONFIRMED. TRANSMISSION RECEIVED. USER: MELESSA2260 AT 0636 HOURS 05.26.3515. “Computer, trace signal of unregistered user, Melessa2260, and specify location. UNABLE TO COMPLY. TRANSMISSION TITLED MELESSA2260 UNIDENTIFIED, came the unhelpful response.

Alex scratched her head and asked again, “Computer, the unregistered user titled Melessa2260 transmitted a message to Corneas, please confirm.” The Atlas12 conveyed: CONFIRMED.

“Computer, if there is no record or file of said transmission from Melessa2260 to Corneas, then explain confirmation.” enquired Alex. The screen printed: UNKNOWN.

Alex thought the transmission from Melessa2260 must be a fluke in the communications Matrix. She would order a SCIRun analysis immediately. SCIRun is a computational workbench that interactively looks for inconsistencies in the dataflow programming modules. Melessa2260 was out there somewhere, possibly a rogue informant or an anomaly in the system that Alex wanted to locate at all costs. She directed the computer to save the message from Melessa2260 to her personal file. She would wait for further developments before reporting this to Tom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0601 HOURS Thursday
06.20.3515 Corneas

Three weeks passed and no further illegal transmissions were detected. Alex was getting a feel for her new job. Mary and Jerry were excellent employees and she basically gave them the run of the main terminal. She did keep a very close surveillance on all incoming and outgoing transmissions, hoping to discover the source of the illegal transmission received earlier.

Alex watched her screen as an incoming transmission relayed a buffer shield. It was a top priority message for Mark9351, the Chief of Operations. She acknowledged the transmission with a hypercode seal and was getting out of her COM chair when her monitor blinked: INCOMING. MELESSA2260 CREW.CHIEF FALCON15.5 AMBER DUCE HYPERTYME. MESSAGE FORWARD TO ALEX8796 CREW.CHIEF CORNEAS.

Alex quickly resumed her seat and hit the receiver button on her console. The message read:

GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS ALEX8796. I HOPE THE INFORMATION I RELAYED TO YOU WAS HELPFUL. MY REQUESTOR NUMBER IS: MELESSA2260cc FALCON15.5 AMBER DUCE HYPERTYME SYSTEMS. END OF MESSAGE.

Alex could not believe her eyes. Melessa2260 was making contact again, and this time with an authorized requestor number and location! “Computer,” Alex said excitedly. The screen blinked: WORKING.

“Computer, reply transmission from Melessa2260cc Falcon15.5 Amber Duce Hypertyme,” Alex ordered. The computer screen scrolled: READY. “Computer, relay message… Thank you for the information, Melessa. Please accept my gratitude. How is the weather on Amber Duce? End Message and send.” Alex concluded. The monitor read: COMPLIED. MESSAGE SENT.

Less then five minutes later the system monitor alerted her to an incoming message from Melessa2260.

GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS ALEX8796. THE WEATHER HERE IS A GLORIOUS MINUS 273 DEGREES CELSIUS ON THE ASTROID SURFACE. ZERO MILE WINDS. FOR AMBER DUCE
THIS IS BUT A SPRING DAY. I HOPE TO BE COMMUNICATING WITH YOU SOON. HAVE A GREAT SHIFT. END OF MESSAGE.

Alex said aloud, “Computer, check weather conditions on Falcon15.5 Amber Duce Hypertyme System.” The monitor blinked: WINDS 0 MILES PER HOUR. SURFACE TEMPERATURE MINUS 273 DEGREES CELSIUS.

“Computer, send reply to Melessa2260.” As her heart thumped with excitement, Alex told herself to remain calm. This was her first real command and a clear head would elicit more information. Making the correct decision was imperative.

The monitor blinked: STATE MESSAGE. “Thanks for the weather report and I hope you are keeping warm over there . End message and send.” Alex commanded.

Alex bit her lip. She was piqued and excited at the contact with Melessa2260. In all of Alex’s 69 years she had never felt the need to communicate with anyone other than for official or sexual reasons. She told herself this communication was strictly for information and had nothing to do with any emotional curiosity. Melessa2260 was an informant, that was all.

The computer alerted to an incoming message.

GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS ALEX8796. YES, IT IS QUITE WARM IN MY SUBLET TONIGHT. I WOULD LIKE TO DIRECT LINK WITH YOU. CAN YOU COMPLY? I AM WAITING ON STATION 24BC. END OF MESSAGE.

Despite the knot that had formed in her stomach, Alex made her decision. “Computer, establish a direct link to Melessa2260 on station 24bc. This is a code 101 Blue Bravo.” Alex said, as she got comfortable. Her console chair reclined as she punched her personal code onto the keypad in the right armrest. The COM chair’s armrests whined, mechanically they moved together and locked. A holographic keyboard appeared. Alex waited for the system to directly link her sublet to Melessa’s.

The main screen flashed the status of her request: READY. DIRECT LINK ENABLED. MELESSA2260 ON LINE AT 0618 HOURS.

Melessa2260: Greetings and salutations, Alex8796. Thank you for joining me. I have some information for you if you are ready for download?

Alex8796: Thank you, Melessa. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Melessa2260: Here it comes. Standby.

Alex watched as the encoded message downloaded onto her hard disk. She ordered a virus scan and then read the information. It was a dossier on a Phillips3456, an interplanetary Food Processor Technician for the NFC. Alex immediately thought about what her boss had mentioned about the “mole”, a mole could move from one system to another without being detected by security. Could this Phillips3456 be that mole she wondered? Was he the main agent in the Halo-Scam? If she could prove it, her career would be set. She could name her price and next duty station. Alex wondered why Melessa2260 was giving her this information and not utilizing it herself.

Alex8796: Received download and thank you. I have a question, Melessa.

Melessa2260: State your question, Alex.

Alex8796: Why are you giving me this information?

Melessa2260: This is a situation that has developed on your station. If left unchecked it could migrate to other stations. It is imperative that we nip this in the bud before it becomes an epidemic.

Alex8796: How is it that you are able to identify these illegal transmissions?

Melessa2260: We have the new Harron Array, which gives us defining visibility.

Alex8796: Yes, we are scheduled for a replacement next year. I want to thank you for your help but could you please explain your directive?

Melessa2260: We are comrades fighting the same war. Need I say more?

Alex8796: Do you want some kind of payment for this information?

Melessa2260: Yes, your picture.

Alex8796: That’s it? Is this all you want?

Melessa2260: Yes.

Alex8796: Your request is rather unusual, wouldn’t you say?

Melessa2260: Perhaps.

Alex8796: Then why make it?

Melessa2260: Indulge me, please.

The knot in Alex’s stomach twisted. Melessa’s request was bizarre – credits would have been the logical choice. This picture transfer was juvenile and unnecessary. She would indulge Melessa to discover her intention.

Alex8796: Very well, Melessa. I am uploading my hologram, now.

Melessa2260: Do you want mine?

The question made Alex uneasy – she felt cornered. She was expected to jump through Melessa’s hoop for the sake of the company. She didn’t want Melessa’s picture. She didn’t want to know her other than for information gathering purposes. Melessa was an informant. Besides, starting a personal connection for whatever reason could cost her credibility. Everything she had worked for her entire life would be flushed, and for what? A momentary curiosity. Her goal was established and her course set. Her prime directive was clear – find the mole. She decided to play along to figure Melessa’s intention behind this ridiculous proposal. She decided to ask for Melessa’s picture.

Alex8796: Yes, Melessa, please send me your picture.

Melessa’s hologram appeared on her screen. It was a three dimensional image of a young woman, smiling. She stood with her slender arms placed on slim hips. A straight nose sat between even green eyes, light blonde hair with red highlights hung almost to her shoulders. The image rotated 360 degrees. Unconsciously, a smile formed on Alex’s lips as she stared at the image. She saved it in her personal folder. Melessa was very appealing, she thought.

Melessa2260: You’re gorgeous, Alex. I love your dark hair and blue eyes. Your smile… you have a beautiful smile.

Alex8796: How old are you, Melessa?

Melessa2260: 26, and you?

Alex8796: Tell me, how did you rise so quickly to become Crew Chief? I am 69!

Melessa2260: I have a degree in Interplanetary Communications. And no way are you 69, you don’t look a day past 25!

Alex8796: That explains it. And thank you for the compliment but only my revitalizer knows the truth.

Melessa2260: How many treatments have you had?

Alex8796: Only two so far. Why?

Melessa2260: I heard that after the fourth it can cause brain damage. I would be careful, Alex.

Alex8796: Yes, I’ve read that too! I know some workers who have had several treatments and they are fine.

Melessa2260: Well, as long as you are aware of the risk. It’s just that…

Alex8796: Just what?

Melessa2260: I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, Alex. Please be careful.

Alex8796: Thank you for your concern but I am not planning on having any more treatments in the near future.

Melessa2260: Good! It is almost the end of my shift and I need to sign off now. Can we direct-link again tomorrow?

Alex8796: Yes. I look forward to communicating with you, and thanks for the information.

Melessa2260: You are more than welcome Alex. I am looking forward to tomorrow. Good morning.

The screen blinked: MELESSA2260cc DISCONNECTED AT 0630 HOURS.

Alex told the system to disconnect the direct-link and asserted the console chair back to its upright position. The direct link holographic keypads dissipated and the armrests returned to their original positions.

“Computer, download Melessa2260’s communiqué into my personal file.” Alex ordered as she noticed the time, 0635 Hours. FILE FROM MELESSA2260CC DOWNLOADED & FILED TO PERSONAL LOG: ALEX8796CC.

Alex popped into the CORE room and asked, “Mary, I need you to run a DC10 on a Melessa2260cc.”

“Yes, ma’am. Do you have a requestor number?” Mary asked as she punched in the request.

“Yes, it’s Amber Duce15.5 Hypertyme system. Run the search now. I want to see who she has been communicating with.” Alex wanted to find out everything she possibly could about Melessa.

Twenty-five minutes later, Mary stated, “I have your information on Melessa2260, Crew Chief on Amber Duce. Do you want me to record it on a disc, Ma’am?”

“That would be swell, Mary, thanks.” Alex grinned as Mary copied the information to a disc and handed it to her. “Thank you, Mary, Jerry … good work guys. Let’s call it a night.” As they stepped out of the ICC room a day shift officer was waiting outside. Alex said her good mornings and headed down the corridor towards her quarters with only one thought on her mind, a hot sonic shower and then sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

O650 HOURS FRIDAY:
06.21.3515 Corneas

The information Mary had obtained was very informative. Reading over Melessa’s data brought a new perspective to Alex’s suspicions. There were no abnormalities in her record or reasons to support that Melessa was anything more than what she stated in their direct-link. She was a 26-year-old Crew Chief stationed on Amber Duce. She had been in that position for almost a year. She graduated with top honors at Pynix Interplanetary College, afterwards she was hired in the communications department on Amber Duce. After three years of hard work, she was promoted to Crew Chief.

Alex noticed on her screen the cursor line read: SYTEM ENABLED. DIRECT-LINK INCOMING. MELESSA2260cc ON LINE AT 0652 HOURS.

“Computer, accept direct-link with Melessa2260.” Alex ordered her system. DIRECT LINK ENABLED, came the response.

Melessa2260: Greetings and salutations, Alex. How are you this morning?

Alex8796: I am well, and you?

Melessa2260: I am very excited to … one moment please…. I have a transmission coming in.

A short pause.

Melessa2260: Alex, you need to run a scan on transmission 54387D from TitisMinor27. There appears to be another compacted message.

Alex minimized her direct link to Melessa and said, “Computer, connect me to Mary3999.” Mary’s visage appeared on her screen, “Yes, ma’am?”

“I need you to run a scan on incoming transmission 54387D from TitisMinor27. This time, Mary, don’t run a diagnostic, I don’t want to give away our scan.” Alex directed. Lightly drumming her fingers on the keypad she waited. Shortly, Mary said, “Ma’am, we have recorded the transmission and will give you a report soon.”

Alex hit the ‘maximize’ key on her keypad.

Alex8796: I have it. Thank you for the heads up on the transmission. I am waiting for the analysis, can you wait for a confirmation?

Melessa2260: I would be delighted to but, unfortunately, my shift is ended. I have a doctor’s appointment and I can’t be late again. Can we continue on Monday?

Alex8796: Are you not well?

Melessa2260: Oh no, I am fine. It is my annual physical examination that I keep forgetting. Until Monday then? Have a good weekend, Alex.

Alex8796: The same to you, Melessa. Thank you again for the information and I look forward to Monday.

The Atlas12 blinked: MELESSA2260 DISCONNECTED AT 0655 HOURS.

Alex followed suit and disengaged her system. She walked out to the CORE room and asked Mary to copy the transmission to a disc. Mary handed Alex the disc before she and Jerry logged out.

“Will you be needing anything else, Ma’am?” Jerry inquired, stretching as he stood up from his terminal chair.

“No. Have a good weekend you two.” Alex had a preoccupied look on her face.

“Is there anything wrong, Ma’am?” Mary asked.

“I need to analyze this data.” Alex said. Without waiting for a reply she reentered her sublet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0945 HOURS SATURDAY
06.22.3515 Corneas

A painting of horses grazing upon an open field hung on Tom’s office wall. Alex studies the painting, examining the brush strokes and the colors chosen to embellish this ancient masterpiece. She had never seen a horse or a green field, or a tree, shrub or even a bird that was not artificially manufactured. She often thought of herself as a worm or some arboreal subterranean life form without eyes, very much like Tom’s mole.

As she looked at the sun in the picture, Alex realized she had only felt the warmth of a real sun a few times, usually when she chose to holiday on the pleasure planets. Most of the worlds she visited had lost their flora and fauna hundreds or thousand of years ago due to pollution or war. Almost all indigenous life forms in the known galaxies were now extinct.

“You like my painting?” Tom asked.

“Yes, I do,” murmured Alex as she continued to study it.

Tom said proudly, “I bought it years ago at some traveler’s lodge. It was hanging on the wall of my cabin. I inquired about it to the proprietor and bought it for a mere 100 credits. The fool didn’t know what he had. It’s an original, painted before the new-century.”

He spun his swivel chair towards Alex, “I am very impressed with your performance so far. This new information will be very helpful in shutting down a subversive ring of black marketeers.”

Tom placed his elbows on his desk. “We need the mole, Alex. I know you have an informant and you need to get this information,” he whispered so softly that Alex had to lean forward to hear him. “There is no limit to the NFC’s appreciation in capturing the elusive mastermind. You will be saving the company millions of credits not to mention the humiliation this “Outlaw” has endeavored to heap upon us, to destroy the foundations of the company.” Tom made a fist and growled, emphasizing his point.

“I understand, Sir, and I will do everything in my power to bring this person to justice.” Alex vowed, sitting up straight and looking Tom dead in the eyes.

“I need you to get real close to your informant, Alex. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. After conferring with my superiors, I am prepared to say that your application to university will be accepted at any institute you wish, along with a hefty bonus to help with the cost.” Tom nodded knowingly as he leaned back in his chair and pulled at his collar. After a moment to let her digest the news, he got up and offered Alex his hand. As they shook hands Alex said, with a gleam in her eye, “I will do my best, Sir.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0245 HOURS SUNDAY
06.23.3515 Corneas

The dream began in absolute blackness, darker than the planet Corneas orbited. Blacker than the heavens cascading down from the ramparts of Partitions Flame. Blacker than the pit Alex served and blacker than her ataraxia soul.

She was running blindly down a narrow tunnel. Something menacing was chasing her, getting closer with each terrifying step. Alex ran as fast as her long legs could move, her heart pounded like a snare drum calling cadence before a skirmish. Afraid of what followed, she ran frantically into the darkness with outstretched arms feeling her way along the tunnel’s smooth flat walls. At the end of the tunnel was a pinprick of light. If she could only make it to the light, she would be saved. The light was her salvation. Its rays would free her from the blackness and the menace that pursued her.

She was panting heavily, her aching muscles demanded oxygen. Spent and drenched in sweat she faltered, collapsing on one knee. Pulverizing agony shot from her knee to her pelvis. Alex grimaced in pain. She forced herself to get up, forging onward, limping towards the light as the thing behind grabbed for her. It growled in deep throaty gurgles as it lunged. She felt its claws rip deep into her flesh, pulling her back to the shroud of eternal cold and the black of solitude. She mustered one last bit of strength, tearing herself away from its malevolent grasp. A desperate leap landed her within the beam of blinding white light, safe from the beast of the blackness, safe from the eternity of loneliness. A voice pleaded, “Alex, Alex. . . save me Alex .…”

Alex sprang awake, her body curled into a tight ball of fear. Her throat was raw from screaming in terror as tears streamed down her face. She darted her eyes across the dark room looking for the thing that chased her. Slowly, she fell back on the bed. She was alone. The horror of the nightmare dissipated with each breath. Finding her pillow in the darkness, Alex clung to it like a lifebuoy. She buried her head deep into its cushioned softness and wept.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0310 HOURS TUESDAY
06.25.3515 Corneas

The usual lunchtime crowd of about 20 individuals sat at various tables eating their meal. Mary was not in the Café nor was she in the main CORE outside the ICC.

“Damn.” Alex swore as she headed to a coffee machine. She would just have to wait until 0340 hours when Mary returned to her duty station after her break.

An overhead security camera in the center of the cafeteria’s ceiling tracked Alex as she sauntered over to the coffee machine.

The foil packet arrived with a heavy thud. As Alex bent to retrieve the hot beverage she felt her scalp prickle and the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. It was an unusual tingling sensation; for a moment Alex though she was being watched. Thinking this highly unlikely she canvassed the Café once again looking for a vacant table. Steve was sitting three tables down from where she stood eating his lunch. She decided to sit at the rear of the east side of the cafeteria, as far as possible from the sex shark.

The security camera rotated to follow Alex as she moved eastward towards the back of the cafeteria. As she sat down at the far end table another security camera, placed at the opposite corner, tracked her while the center camera continued its automated 360-degree sweep of the room.

Sipping her hot coffee, Alex glanced over the Phillips file on her palm-sized plastic data disc on a 2 inch screen. She never noticed the east end security camera zooming in. Something was amiss with his dossier, she thought. She made a note to ask Mary to run a more detailed scan. She felt sure he was involved in some illegal activity but from the current details there was nothing to link him to a porn halo scam.

At 0339 hours, Alex chucked her foil packet and left the cafeteria. The security camera followed her every move.

As she strolled the main corridor towards the ICC, Alex failed to notice another camera trained on her. Her attention was totally consumed with the lack of information about Phillips. Alex was certain there was something
Melessa wasn’t giving enough information. If Melessa was being above board, then something had better come to light, and soon.

Mary was standing next to Jerry when Alex entered the CORE room. She was about to ask for a detailed probe on Phillips when Mary spotted her, “Ma’am, there is a urgent message for you from Amber Duce.”

“I’ll take it in my sublet.” Alex snapped out, hastening across the room just as one of the security cameras pivoted to track her.

“Computer, this is a 101 Bravo. Patch me into Meless2260.” Alex ordered as she jumped into the COM chair and keyed her personal code on the right armrest keypad. The Computer screen read: MELESSA2260cc AMBER DUCE15.5 ON STATION AT 0345 HOURS. COMPLIED. The COM chair automatically maneuvered into position as the armrests joined and the halo-screen appeared.

Melessa2260: Greetings and salutations, Alex. How are you?

Alex8796: Very well, thank you, Melessa. I am somewhat in the dark as to the Phillips dossier. I cannot find any reference to any illegal activity. Could you elaborate as to why you sent me his file?

Melessa2260: You are all work this morning.

Alex8796: I guess I am. Did you discover any information or any peculiar data involving Phillips? Frankly, Mellesa, I believe the information you sent me is incomplete.

Melessa2260: Yes I have. He is linked to the disaster which occurred at 01.23.3514 on planetoid 0254ZCRONOS.

Alex8796: Cronos? I don’t understand. How could an utilities worker be linked to that situation?

Melessa2260: Reports state that Phillips reported to 0254ZCRONOS on 01.10.3514 to repair several malfunctioning vending machines. Before the vending repairs were completed, Phillips teleported off 0254ZCRONOS on 01.19.3514. Three days later, a viral subroutine program was introduced to the main system immediately degenerating all neural algorithms. On 01.23.3514, at 0001 HOURS the main system collapsed. All personnel suffocated as a result of the internal air generators malfunctioning.

Alex read Melessa’s statement in disbelief. There was no tragedy on Cronos last year. Yes, it was true they had a mild computer malfunction but no hands were lost. Where was she getting this information, Alex pondered.

Alex8796: This information is unbelievable. I read reports about the Cronos incident and it did not state any deaths or a total system crash.

Melessa2260: The information was suppressed, Alex. I’m sure you can imagine the repercussions and why this was concealed from the public.

Alex8796: How did you find out about this?

Melessa2260: Before I explain, you must promise that this goes no further until the people responsible are apprehended.

Alex8796: You know I can’t agree to that. But what I will promise is that your name will not be included in my report until I have all the information. If you are linked to any illegal connections to this case I will report you. Other than that you have my word your name will not be mentioned until I have all the facts.

Melessa2260: Alright. Three months ago, I was deleting old data from the mainframe when I came across a message with this information. I hacked into my Administrator’s personal files. His restricted report matched the partial communication file I discovered. If you report me, Alex, I will be sent to prison or worse. You have to understand I’m only interested in finding the people who are responsible. I need your help, Alex. This is the reason I contacted you.

Alex8796: Why me, Melessa? This is clearly a security matter, why come to me?

Melessa2260: This is a conspiracy concealed by management, Alex. They don’t want this information to be released. It would cause chaos throughout the systems. The repercussions alone would jeopardize production and NFC stock would plummet, causing a catastrophe that would weaken our entire economic network. Not to mention the security ramifications if this information was leaked. Also, Phillips is scheduled to report to Corneas on 08.28.3515 for replacement of food processing vending machines on various levels. I believe at that time a similar virus will be introduced to your system.

Alex8796: Oh my goodness! Melessa, send me everything you have. Yes I will help you.

Melessa2260: You won’t report me then?

Alex8796: No, of course not!

Melessa2260: Good, here comes all the research I have so far.

While the file downloaded, Alex buzzed Mary. “Mary, I need a Cumulvs run on a Phillips3456. Get me all library environments checked and any associations, memberships, scholastic affiliations etc he has. I need to know everything about this guy and, Mary, I need it yesterday.” Alex ordered. The pit of her stomach was ready to explode, she tasted bile as she swallowed hard. A headache throbbed in her temples as Alex returned to the main screen.

Alex8796: Give me some time to look over this information. I am running a cerebral scan on Phillips now. Can I contact you tomorrow when I have something to report?

Melessa2260: I will await your report.

Alex8796: Until tomorrow, good morning.

Melessa2260: I knew you would help me Alex.

Alex’s monitor blinked: MELESSA2260cc AMBER DUCE15.5 DISCONNECTED AT 0415 HOURS.

The Phillips file was quite extensive and Alex read quickly, oblivious to the security camera at the corner of the sublet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2305 HOURS TUESDAY
06.25.3515

An endless stream of questions buzzed through Alex’s mind as she started her shift. Phillips3456 was an interplanetary maintenance worker, he repaired vending machines. Surely this did not qualify him as a terrorist responsible for killing thousands of workers and destroying an entire system. What made him her mole? Nothing in the report or Mary’s cerebral scan came up with a legitimate lead that could link Phillips to anything. Where was the key, she kept asking, as she sat in the COM chair nibbling her lip. If Alex was going to save her home base and the rest of the stations, then Melessa needed to tell all.

Alex ordered the Atlas12 to send a message to Melessa requesting a direct link. Her monitor blinked, COMPLIED. SENDING MESSAGE.

As she sat watching the green cursor, Alex remembered her dream. A flood of foreboding emotions rushed over her, chasing goosebumps up and down her flesh. Suddenly, her scalp started to tingle as the bone chilling blackness of the nightmare gnawed at her soul. Alex didn’t understand the dream or who was calling out to her, all she knew was that she felt afraid for the first time in her life.

The monitor blinked: MELESSA2260cc ON LINE AT 2310 HOURS:

Melessa2260: Greetings and salutations, Alex. How are you doing this evening?

Alex8796: I need some more information, can you help?

Melessa2260: What do you need, Alex?

Alex8796: I can’t find any reasons to implicate Phillips. His background check is completely clean. If I say so myself, he is an excellent worker and could easily fall within the leader’s mark. It is true he left Cronos just before the accident but that is not enough for me to press charges against him. Can you offer me anymore information?

Melessa2260: I sent you everything I could uncover about him and I am sure he is the one responsible. He may not be the organizer but I am certain he is involved.

Alex8796: Wait a minute … if what you say is true then we could be looking at the wrong person.

Melessa2260: What do you mean, Alex? I don’t understand. I am positive Phillips is connected.

Alex8796: Hang on for a minute, Melessa, while I pull up the file. I want to check something out.

Melessa2260: I am here, Alex…

Alex8796: You are right, Melessa. Phillips is the link but I don’t think he is our man.

Melessa2260: Why not?

Alex8796: It’s right here and we’ve been looking at it the whole time. Yes, Phillips left Cronos before the system crashed but if you check his personnel records he was ordered to report to Nebula3091. And look who made the order, Tanner4321, his Section Adminstrative Chief.

Melessa2260: Let me cross reference Tanner with Phillips. I will be right back.

Alex8796: Fine… there is something I also want to check out.

Alex minimized the screen and asked Jerry to run another scan on the two previous transmissions with the embedded program. “Jerry, I need you to check and see if there is any other information encoded within those files. I am looking for a bilateral subroutine that is consistent with the infrastructure of the programming that may have numerical algorithms.” Alex noted the same twinge of feeling eyes watching her as she maximized her screen to Melessa.

Melessa2260: I have a cross reference with Tanner, Phillips and Conway. Conway is Tanner’s CO and is presently the vice president of Computer Marketing for NFC. Conway was a biorhythms programmer for Trendway prior to joining the NFC.

Alex8796: Wasn’t Trendway the inventor of the Particle Physics Data Grid that every substation uses today?

Melessa2260: Until the NFC acquired it just before the company filed a chapter 13. Don’t you remember the controversy the NFC caused? They offered loans to Trendway at low percentage rates until the company made a turn-around. After three months, they called in the loans .… Trendway couldn’t pay so the NFC took them over. It was considered by many to be an illegal takeover but the Competition Chiefs sanctioned the NFC with a mere slap on the wrist. I thought this kind of conduct died with the 21st century.

Alex8796: I guess it depends how one perceives it … many thought it was a brilliant move by the NFC to save Trendway from total collapse. Then again, maybe some of the staff at Trendway still has issues. Getting back to our business, let’s look at what we have so far; Tanner, Phillips and Conway, Cronos and porn programs. Tanner was a biorhythms programmer for Trendway, he could easily be our virus architect. And he just may have enough balls to create such a scheme to get back at the NFC.

Melessa2260: If he isn’t the author, then he would know whom to contact. Let me check and see who else was connected to Trendway and is now employed by the NFC. Good point Alex. I would never have given that another thought, knowing how the company operates.

Alex8796: That is an excellent idea, Melessa. I like how your mind works. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have other Trendway staff on board.

Melessa2260: You’re not too bad yourself.

Alex8796: You mean it, Melessa?

Melessa2260: Of course, Alex. If it wasn’t for your help, I would still be stuck on square one. Be right back, going to run a scan.

Alex8796: I need to check on the process of my own hunch and I will wait for you.

Alex minimized the halo-screen and said aloud, “Computer, patch me in to Jerry”. The Atlas12 responded: COMPLIED.

“Jerry, how is your scan coming?” Alex asked. “I have found a compacted program, ma’am, and we are trying to break the code. It appears it has algorithms terminology.” Jerry imparted.

“Jerry, I want those two files sequestered and put on a disc. Then run a detailed virus scan on all systems immediately.”

Alex realized something as her heart caught in her throat. She maximized the halo screen.

Melessa2260: You won’t believe it, Alex, there are several execs on staff. I am uploading the names right now. Most of them are right out of the programming department.

Alex8796: Where is Phillips stationed now?

Melessa2260: This is incredible, Alex! You have done it, you found the key.

Alex8796: Melessa, what is Phillips’s current duty station? Tell me.

Melessa2260: Phillips is presently on Amber Duce, Alex.

Alex8796: You are in danger, Melessa. Yours is the next system to crash!

Melessa2260: Yes, I know. Why do you think I asked for your help Alex? You have no idea the fear and torment I have endured trying to find the key to this. I haven’t slept in days knowing that it could be everyone’s end here if this madness isn’t stopped and I am powerless to do anything about it.

Alex8796: I understand your fear and I know how hard it is to try to accomplish the impossible when you are all alone.

Melessa2260: Do you, Alex? Thank you for understanding my dilemma. It has been difficult, not being able to communicate my fears and concerns to anyone.

Alex8796: Of course, I understand, Melessa. Like you, I have come to recognize how sometimes we are so utterly alone. To even speak of ourselves is considered disdainful. Maybe we lost something along the way in our quest to be successful.

Melessa2260: I am seeing you in a very different light, Alex. You aren’t exactly all work now, are you?

Alex8796: I guess dealing with extreme situations brings out extreme emotions, Melessa. But before this turns into an exposé on our inner psyche, we need to turn our attentions back to saving you and your station.

Melessa2260: Yes, I agree.. Have you looked at the names? There are twelve. I am so scared, Alex. I knew Phillips was linked but I could not go to my superiors with just a hunch. They would have laughed me right off the station. But now with you, I have a comrade, and together we will stop them and save our systems. I know this now and it helps me to remain strong.

Alex8796: Like you said, Melessa, we are warriors in the same battle. We have to be victorious or all systems will suffer the same fate as Cronos. I know we can win this together.

Melessa2260: I like the sound of that Alex; together we make a remarkable team. But time is running out . . .

Alex8796: Yes, we do make a good team. I am glad you contacted me, Melessa.

Melessa2260: You don’t know how long I have waited for you to say this.

Alex8796: Have you noticed the names on this list? They are all Trendway employees who transferred to the NFC when Trendway was bought out.

Melessa2260: Do you think everyone on this list has issues with the NFC? That they are all involved?

Alex8796: I am going to give you some top secret information that I have discovered while checking out this scam. I had tallies done on Corneas and other systems to see if there has been any fall off of usage of the Sex Pods/Halo-Rooms. There are none. So, that transmission you sent me was a scam, a ruse to evade anyone who might actually discover it compacted in a routine transmission. Yes, they had embedded halo profiles in the transmission but what I just learned is they also had a virus program coded within the substructure of that particle halo program. It was designed to appear as a possible illegal halo program when actually it is probably hiding the same virus that shut down Cronos. I believe these transmissions sit on the system until the key is introduced to execute the virus. I believe Phillips has the key and is being ordered when to use it to start the virus, then he is called off the station before the mainframe crashes. I would not be surprised if all of the bases have this virus already implanted on their hard drives and are awaiting the key.

Melessa2260: If what you say is true then why wasn’t Nebula3091 next to crash? Since that is where Phillips transferred to after Cronos.

Alex8796: That’s easy. They don’t have the new array and won’t be getting it for a couple of years. Your station and Cronos are the only ones with it thus far. Corneas is next to be outfitted so once it is in operation we are next on the list.

Melessa2260: Why take down a system, Alex, just because of the new array?

Alex8796: Because the new array can detect their signal. I know now there is no porn scam but what is really going on is that funds are being rerouted elsewhere. Since we have twelve names, I would not be surprised these are the ones we are looking for. I think the funds that have been stolen run into the millions and the NFC was helpless to find out who is doing it. This is the reason for the new arrays being installed.

Melessa2260: Thousands of people dead because of credits? How utterly 21st century of the bastards! We’ve got to get them, Alex. We’ve got to put them away for what they’ve done.

Alex8796: We will, Melessa, but first we need to find out how and where the credit transfers are being conducted and where the credits are transferred to. We need bank account numbers … the whole nine yards.

Melessa2260: We’ve got our work cut out for us. So, where do we start looking?

Alex8796: We need to run a scan on all bank transfers in the last month. I don’t think anyone has made us yet. These people are smart and ruthless and will think nothing of killing someone who gets in their way. You must be very careful, Melessa.

Melessa2260: I understand. I think if you and I do this together without our team’s help we will be safe for now.

Alex8796: Agreed. I will run the credit transfers that are on the mainframe and scan them for any embedded codes. Could you run scans of each of the twelve names? See if there are any differences in their deposit/withdrawal patterns in the last two years?

Melessa2260: Yes, and I will get back to you shortly…

An hour passed without Alex’s notice since she was too engrossed in her search. Time was of the essence now. Phillips could get the call anytime to download his key and depart Amber Duce. Within three days everyone could be dead. This was no dream or story she had read off the computer library banks. This was reality slapping her in the face and waking her up to her own uncertain future, her mortality and realization of her naivete to believe in the security of her world. There had not been any war or murder, theft or aggression since the last war. So, why now? What Melessa said was true, these killers where typical 21st century and had no bond to her time. These emotions were the sickness of a time forgotten. It was unconscionable to even imagine the depraved minds at work in this sinister plot.

Alex’s monitor blinked an incoming message from Melessa2260. As the cursor blinked steadily like the beating of her own heart, Alex realized that life wasn’t perfect. There was no security as long as wicked minds planned revenge.

Melessa2260: I got it Alex. Mathews1424, fourth on the list just sent a message to Thomas0190 requesting a funds transfer. I have the name of the bank and the account number. I traced everything to Connors5023 in finance. He has made several deposits in the last two weeks into this account. There is a problem, Alex. This is a dummy account that is used to flush the credits on to a Scottsdale Bank free trade account, but it’s only been used three times. I got lucky and traced the dummy to the global secure account.

Alex8796: Great work, Melessa. Did you find any unauthorized purchases?

Melessa2260: No, these people are smart. They aren’t spending any of the credits but holding them in the account until it is withdrawn.

Alex8796: Where are the funds going?

Melessa2260: This is the really smart part. They are buying stock in NFC. They almost have, from what I can tell, about 35 percent in a firm called Medlow. It also is a dummy that they are using for a cover so as not to bring suspicion. I guess they plan to take over the NFC with it’s own stolen funds.

Alex8796: This is great! Melessa, record everything to disc and report to your administrator at once.

Melessa2260: I don’t think that would be a smart move. If this information is leaked, then we are all cooked. I would prefer if you reported it. They will not be expecting an external system. You can set it up over there and then make the raid … without setting off any ripples that could get us killed over here.

Alex8796: I see your point. Alright, send me everything and I will make sure you get all the credit. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t even know anything.

Melessa2260: Alex, could you not include my name in your report? I am scared that any link to my system could be leaked. I’m alone here without protection and if my name is mentioned they could very well order a hit. I could be the last casualty.

Alex8796: OK, But when we have these bastards behind bars I’m giving up your name.

Melessa2260: You can’t, Alex. Remember, I hacked into personal files. If you mention my name I go to prison right along with them.

Alex8796: Very well. I won’t include your name but I don’t think it is right since you deserve all the credit.

Melessa2260: I don’t care about those things, Alex I just want our systems to be free of this terror so my nightmares can stop.

Alex8796: I understand your reasons and I will comply because you asked. You may not hear from me until it is all over. I do want to mention that we are very close to breaking the virus code. But just in case, I will have Phillips and everyone else on the list taken into custody at the same time to ensure confidentiality. The next time you hear from me it will all be over and you will be out of danger.

Melessa2260: Hurry, Alex.

Alex downloaded the information to a disc. She would check on Jerry’s progress and then call on Tom; she was going to wake him up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2315 HOURS FRIDAY
06.28.3515 Corneas

Three days later, Alex walked the main corridor towards the ICC on her last shift as a Crew Chief. She looked at the orange colored walls and thought how lonely they appeared now as she was feeling somewhat melancholy. The ICC doors opened soundlessly and she realized she would miss the station.

Jerry and Mary were busy at the main terminal, unaware of her entry. She walked quickly to her sublet and ran her hand across the sensor. The door slid open as the bright lights beamed their usual welcome. Alex was dead tired and needed rest but she had one last call to make.

The COM chair sat vacant, waiting for a body to command it into action. Suddenly, a twinge of loneliness crept into her soul like a barefoot stroll on an icy road. She looked around the room as she sank into the COM chair. She had longed for this moment her whole life and now that it finally arrived, the taste of success was not as sweet as anticipated. Everything seemed cold and austere, sanitized by the bitter taste of dissatisfaction. Her belly ached with dread as she commanded the Atlas12 to send one last message to Melessa.

The lights dimmed as she got comfortable. The Atlas12 screen blinked, READY. Alex ordered the direct link. The thought of this being the last time she would sit here brought tears to her eyes. Alex punched in her code and leaned back, awaiting for the chair to recline and activate the link. She barely felt its smooth operation. She typed Melessa’s number without thinking, her fingers finding the correct keys automatically.

Alex8796: Are you there, Melessa?

Melessa2260: Greeting and salutations, Alex.

Alex8796: Greetings, Melessa.

Melessa2260: Is everything all right?

Alex8796: Yes, Melessa. You are safe. The plot has been discovered, everyone responsible has been apprehended. The virus has been patched. You are no longer at risk.

Melessa2260: Thank you. I am relieved to hear this.

Alex8796: It has been rather frantic over here but now things have calmed down.

Melessa2260: Are you ok?

Alex8796: I am fine. I am on holiday. Since the arrests … I am a hero. Everyone wants to shake my hand. I have been to three parties today, all in my honor.

Melessa2260: How wonderful. I am happy for you. They have given you some time off, I take it?

Alex8796: Yes. I have two weeks off before I report to my new duty station, Typas4. One of the perks for saving the company. Oh yes, I have been promoted to Section Administration Chief.

Melessa2260: You deserve it, and you are a hero.

Alex8796: Then tell me one thing, how is it I don’t feel like a hero? I will even go you one better. I will answer that question, Melessa. I am not a hero. I am a sham. I don’t deserve anything. You, on the other hand, deserve these awards and promotions. Not me. I was just the one who reported it but you did all the work. I have wanted this promotion all my life, but I feel I have stolen it from you, Melessa.

Melessa2260: Don’t you see, you had to report it. Amber Duce was in danger with Phillips and Tanner onsite. I would have been killed and no one would have learned what they had done. None of them would have been brought to justice. You know this, Alex.

Alex8796: Yes, I know it but it isn’t fair, Melessa. It’s not fair to you and if I could, I would let everyone know who the real hero is.

Melessa2260: You can’t divulge your informant, Alex. You promised. If you try to bring me into the scenario now, they would question my motive. It could go badly for me.

Alex8796: I don’t care. I just want you to share this with me. Do you understand how I feel?

Melessa2260: I understand and I would feel the same if the tables were turned. There is something you could do for me, Alex.

Alex8796: Anything … name it and it is yours.

Melessa2260: Meet me.

Alex8796: Meet you?

Melessa2260: Yes. I want to meet you, Alex. Will you meet me?

Alex8796: Where?

Melessa2260: You mean it … you will meet me?

Alex8796: I will meet with you.

Melessa2260: You know, Alex, its Friday here and it’s a three-day weekend. Perhaps we could meet?

Alex8796: Where?

Melessa2260: Why don’t we meet on Cur-Tis4? It is lovely there this time of year.

Alex8796: Cur-tis4? I don’t know where that is. Is it some kind of pleasure planet?

Melessa2260: Not exactly. It is a very nice little planet devoted to the lifestyles of our ancestors. Let me see if I can book a space for us.

Alex8796: What do you mean lifestyles of our ancestors?

Melessa2260: This planet is devoted to the lifestyles of our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Some independents created a mock planet that mirrors our past times. It would be fun to visit, don’t you think? Be right back.

Melessa2260: Great news! We can book for tomorrow, if you like? Goodness … this is so exciting! Should I go ahead and make the reservations?

Alex8796: Alex8796: Ok! Sounds like fun. What do I pack?

Melessa2260: Absolutely nothing. Cur-tis4 will supply everything. You will only need your authorization pass. Time of transfer will be at 1159 HOURS 06.29.3515.

Alex8796: Not a problem. Just give me the location digits and I will see you tomorrow.

Melessa2260: Great! I promise you will love it there. It can be, I am told, quite exotic. And after your hectic week you could use a rest.

Alex8796: OK.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1200 HOURS SATURDAY

6.29.3515 Cur-Tis4

In a fraction of a second, Alex was teleported to Cur-Tis4. A brilliant glare greeted her as she opened her eyes. She had to shield them, squinting until they adjusted to the intensity.

“Welcome to Cur-tis4. You have selected one of the most prodigious vacation spots in the Haines galaxy,” a hologram attendant informed her. As Alex’s eyes focused, she peered at her new surroundings. The landing bay was in a gigantic sphere of glass and steel about the size of a halo-room on Corneas. The arrival pad, though, was a mere three-foot square grid. She stepped off towards the attendant who was motioning for her to follow.

Barely forty feet in front of her, a cerulean sea caressed an ash cream beach. The blue cloudless sky hung across an endless horizon. From above, Curpertous, a dwarf sun, illuminated the entire vista. Alex gasped at the spectacular panoramic view of Cur-Tis4 that lay before her.

The attendant handed Alex a small box, “Please put it on,” it instructed in a melodious tenor. “Put what on?” asked Alex, confused by the request.

“They are called sunglasses. Wear them to protect your eyes. It is suggested that you use them during your entire stay. Follow me, please,” the hologram smiled as it glided across the floor towards a white door. The attendant was an Augean model 1040A. Alex thought that with the credits this place makes they could at least afford to update their system. She hurried to follow the hologram through a steel door that opened upon their approach. A long white corridor waited just beyond. Alex was led down the hallway to a small room filled with lockers from floor to ceiling. The room was completely white, from its tiled floor to the walls, ceiling and lockers. It was also unoccupied.

“Please undress and put all personals in your locker,” stated the attendant. It handed Alex a white tunic, a pair of sandals and a key.

After changing, Alex trailed the attendant cautiously. She was unsure of her footing on the smooth tiles. They traveled down another seemingly endless hallway. Alex had visions of a never-ending trek leaving her lifeless body sprawled on the floor as the attendant continued on unwaveringly.

Stopping abruptly, the attendant activated a sensor. A door opened to the bright afternoon outside. “Enjoy your stay. Your cottage mate awaits you at the Seafarers Lounge,” Alex was informed.

“What is the Seafarers Lounge?” asked Alex.

The attendant handed her a plastic disc and disappeared. On the disc was a map. Alex slipped on the sunglasses and stepped through the doorway into the brilliance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1301 HOURS SATURDAY
06.29.3515 Cur-Tis4

The Seafarers Lounge was an antiquated representation of first new-century dining. It was filled with circular oak tables and chairs surrounding a holographic rock-bed fireplace which burned without heat. Wagon wheel chandeliers, on thick black chains, hung above each table offering little light. On the walls, pictures of ancient seagoing vessels, fishing ships and long dead fishermen enhanced the nautical motif. The smell of charred flesh stung Alex’s nose as she scanned the room for Melessa. At the far side of the room, next to some tinted windows, sat a young woman alone.

Alex stepped up to the table and asked, “Melessa?” The young woman looked up smiling, “Alex?” They stared wordlessly, studying each other.

“May I?” Alex asked as she grabbed the back of a chair across from Melessa. “Yes, please.” Melessa said with a warm smile, gesturing with her hand. Her green eyes glowed in the pale light that beamed through the windows. Alex sat with her back straight. She couldn’t stop smiling. Alex thought Melessa was the cutest thing she had ever seen, with a delicate frame and round facial features like a schoolgirl. Her complexion was the color of pink roses and her hair the color of honeysuckle. Alex felt an immediate attraction to his very lovely young woman.

“So, tell me Alex, how was your trip?” Melessa asked.

“It was fine,” said Alex as she placed her hands on the table. There was a lull in conversation. Her mind whirling, Alex felt awkward and out of place. She didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands. She grabbed a glass of water and drank quickly. To her chagrin, she spilled some water down the front of her tunic. Melessa chuckled and handed her a napkin.

“I guess I need some retraining on proper table manners,” Alex joked as she dabbed at the wet spot with the napkin. “It takes some getting use to after eating from pouches all your life,” giggled Melessa.

They coyly peeked at each other. Melessa asked, “Would you like a drink? The bar is excellent. Of course, they only serve alcoholic beverages here.”

“No juice enhancers or stimulants?” Alex was disappointed.

“Sorry, but you have to remember this place is exactly like the first new-century. It’s exactly as life was almost a thousand years ago,” Melessa explained.

“Really? I’m surprised since alcoholic drinks have been outlawed on most planets.” Alex retorted raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, but they are very good. Would you like to try mine?” Melessa gracefully offered her glass.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t eaten and I’ve heard that alcohol has adverse effects on a empty stomach.” Alex stated the routine verbiage.

“We should order then.” Melessa suggested, picking up her plastic ordering disc. A happy frown appeared on her face as she perused the menu, “I’m starved! Hmmm, I think I will have a steak. I haven’t had one in ages.” Her smile seemed to enhance the glow in her eyes. At that moment, Alex had an uncontrollable desire to take her into her arms and hold her forever.

“I think we’d better order. You’re looking a bit flushed, Alex. I don’t want you collapsing on the floor.” Melessa teased.

“No, we don’t want that, do we?” Alex replied with a nervous laugh as she gazed into Melessa’s eyes again. She realized this young woman was the catalyst for all the new emotions flooding her. Was Melessa feeling as nervous? She looked so relaxed and unaffected by their meeting. Alex grew warm and grabbed for the water glass again, making sure she didn’t dribble this time.

.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After dinner, they went for a stroll along the beach. Alex was having difficulty walking on the sand. With every step she took sank ankle deep. With each hassled lunge she lapsed further behind.

Amazed at Melessa’s easy steps, Alex stopped and shook the sand from her sandals. The gritty stuff was wedged between her toes, gathered under the straps of her sandals and was beginning to chafe. Dabbing sweat off her brow with the heel of her palm, she knew she hadn’t prepared for the heat.

Alex half expected Melessa to turn around or at least wait for her to catch up, but instead she carried on like the halogram, leaving Alex further behind. Didn’t Melessa notice that she was no longer walking beside her? Alex felt ridiculous at her own clumsiness and a little annoyed at her date’s obliviousness. Anxiety covered Alex’s mind like the glare from Cupertous sitting low in the evening sky. Why was she standing on this beach when she should be back on Corneas packing? She should put this situation behind her and move on with what was expected of her. She felt like a fish on the line, lured by a shiny trinket, and being reeled in to her doom. Still, the idea of being near Melessa was intoxicating and so she plodded on.

Melessa finally stopped and looked in Alex’s direction. Alex could see a smile develop on those sweet lips. Melessa jogged back to where Alex stood like some uprooted log swept upon the shore after a storm.

“Is something wrong?” Melessa asked as she approached, slightly winded from the jog.

“This stuff is very difficult to walk in.” Alex complained as she wobbled on one foot while trying to dislodge sand from the other.

“Why don’t you take your sandals off?” Mellessa suggested.

“I will blister … this stuff is like walking on hot coals! Can we go to the cabin now?” Alex pleaded with a pitiful look on her face.

“We’re almost there. Our bungalow is in that direction.” Melessa pointed north, twisting her neck to the right as she looked over her shoulder.

“Oh!” Alex exclaimed, feeling foolish. A couple of tourists holding hands passed them along the beach near the tides edge. “Can you believe the audacity of those two? It’s criminal conduct and they should be reported,” Alex stated with surprised raised eyebrows.

“Why?” asked Mellessa, her smile vanishing like mist in the sun’s heat. “Who would you report them to?” Her body stiffened and her demeanor became serious.

“I’m sure there must be some sort of magistrate on this planet, isn’t there?” Alex gave Melessa one of her determined stares.

“No, there isn’t, Alex. There are no rules here.” Melessa glared back.

“Then how am I to know what to do here?” Alex dropped her arms to her sides in bewilderment.

Melessa’s tone softened as she touched Alex’s hand, “This is a pleasure planet and the optimum word here would be pleasure. There are no rules. You should relax and unwind. After all, you worked hard to get here. Stop thinking about being the perfect worker. You’re not on Corneas now. You are on holiday, there’s no one watching or caring what you do. You are free to do whatever you wish. Laugh, smile … even take your sandals and tunic off or run naked in that surf.” Her green eyes darkened to match the color of the aquatic mass that washed the bone colored beach. Alex felt an emotional tugging in her soul.

Curpertous was setting, turning the westward sky crimson. Alex thought the fading light made Melessa even more beautiful as her hair darkened to the shade of amber. Her face was the color of fine china with rosy cheeks that enhanced the greenness of her eyes. Melessa was captivating and Alex had to hold her breath or erupt with the longing to touch her. Never had she wanted to hold or touch anyone more.

Being this close to Melessa was unnerving and she wanted to run away like in the dream, being chased down that dark corridor. Just the thought of it brought a chill across her spine.

Alex realized she always seemed to be running. Running from the important things in her life. Sixty-nine years of trying to please her superiors and what had she gotten up until meeting Melessa? All those wasted years working for a cause that she thought completed her life.

Alex didn’t want to run anymore, it was time to make a stand. That thought brought a smile to her lips as she considered where she was standing, at this moment, on a deserted beach with a woman she wanted very much.

But how to win her was the question. Alex said shyly, “You look lovely when you’re angry.” Melessa was surprised, her eyes lit up and a tiny smile curled at the corner of her lips.

They starred at each other. Alex felt a rush of excitement throb in her groin. Her heart was racing.

Without a word, Melessa grabbed Alex by the hand and dragged her to the water’s edge. The reek of low tide clogged Alex’s throat and she covered her nose and mouth with her hand.

Bending down, Melessa insisted, “let’s get these off,” as she pulled at Alex’s right sandal.

Alex stood with her foot suspended in the air looking like a flamingo napping on one leg.

Melessa grabbed her right foot and pulled it down onto the damp sand. It felt grainy and cool as Melessa reached for her other sandal. After she removed it she stood up and looked up at Alex.

“Take my hand,” she said as a gust of wind blew up from the south.

“I’d better not.” Alex hesitated.

“Why not?” Melessa shouted as the air whipped past her, flapping her tunic like a flag.

“This stuff smells funny.” Alex mumbled.

Before Alex could resist, Melessa snatched her hand and pulled her into the surf. Cool cascading bubbles tickled her toes as the surf roared in her ears.

Then another gust of wind blew across the water, sprinkling sea spray on her face. The blustery air blew hard through her shoulder length black hair and rattled the tunic chain encircling her waist.

The sensations were remarkable and she stood motionless, savouring the moment. Goosebumps collected on her flesh and the tiny hairs tingled with delight.

Melessa walked backwards, deeper into the surf. Alex followed without hesitation until the water was waist high. It swirled around her, refreshingly chilly.

She licked her salty lips and felt exhilarated as the foam swirled about caressing her legs, feet and stomach in gentle waves.

Melessa giggled, “Isn’t it incredible?” she gazed up at Alex. Alex laughed and pulled Melessa close as she happily agreed, “Yes, it is fantastic!”

Melessa’s warm body was touching hers. She noticed Melessa’s erect nipples under her damp tunic. Alex wanted to trace them to feel their softness.

Melessa followed Alex’s line of sight to her breast. She looked up to meet Alex’s stare, then she took Alex’s right index finger and placed it to her lips. Alex was captivated by their smoothness as she gingerly outlined her lips. Melessa then kissed Alex’s fingertip ever so tenderly.

Streams of hot sensation ran from her fingertip up her hand and down her arm. She took a long breath of air as the throbbing between her legs became more insistent. She wanted Melessa to ease the ache.

A large wave hit them and rolled them over, tossing them like seaweed to the shore. Alex and Melessa clung to each other, rolling over and over until the wave receded back into the sea.

Melessa lay beneath Alex with her arms locked around her shoulders. Alex was breathing heavily as she leaned in and lightly placed her lips to Melessa’s. She felt Melessa’s lips spread to encourage her kiss. Alex pulled back in amazement at Melessa’s reaction.

Melessa placed her hand on the back of Alex’s head and pressed her into another kiss. Once again, Alex felt Melessa’s lips part as her tongue invaded. Hot, wet and slippery like an eel it sought out her tongue. She hunted with her own, fondling Melessa as her hands grasped her thigh. She rolled Melessa over on top of her.

Alex ran her hand up and down Melessa’s bare thighs and then up under her tunic. Melessa’s flesh felt smooth, damp and cool to her scorching fingers.

Feeling her way up her back along her spine, she felt Melessa start to rock and squirm to her touch. Another wave broke and they were submerged, still locked in their embrace. The wave pushed and pummelled them with foam that tickled everywhere.

When the wave ebbed, Alex and Melessa pulled apart and started to laugh. Then Melessa whispered, “I’d better get you to the bungalow,” she lightly touched Alex’s lips with her finger again.

Melessa stood and pulled Alex up. They stood for a moment standing very close. Alex grabbed Melessa by her butt cheeks and pulled her even closer as she placed her lips to her neck. Melessa moaned, “That feels so good.”

Alex slid her finger between Melessa’s buttocks to find a warm moist silkiness that made Melessa groan with need. With her other hand, she pulled Melessa’s tunic down to uncover her breast. Alex ran her tongue along the perfect column of her neck and down towards her cleavage.

The smell of Melessa’s flesh was maddening as Alex sought out the right nipple. She found it erect, soft like a spring rose, blushed pink and tender. She wrapped her lips around it, drawing it into her mouth as her tongue traced the contour of the dimpled bud. Melessa moaned as her nails dug into Alex’s back.

Alex moved her hand around to the front of Melessa’s groin as Melessa spread her legs. Feeling silky hair part to allow her to enter deeper, Alex targeted the folds of Melessa’s sex. They were hot and moist as she separated them and finally touched her target with her right index finger. Melessa’s hard clitoris stood firm waiting for her touch. She rolled her hips into Alex’s touch as she gasped, “Oh gods, don’t stop!”

Melessa’s body quivered and shook as her pelvis rocked faster. Her nails clawed into Alex’s back. With her eyes closed, she guided Alex’s hand deeper into her vaginal canal. Alex’s long finger penetrated the small opening, finding a tunnel of wetness of incredible softness that delighted her. She pushed in as Melessa panted, “Deeper, Alex, deeper.” Alex started a rhythm, pushing in and out to the maximum as she flicked her lover’s clitoris with the tip of her thumb. Melessa moaned, her body shaking wildly as she climaxed.

Alex held her safely as Melessa’s fingers slowly released their grasp. She moved her own hand back to rest at Melessa’s waist as she tenderly kissed Melessa’s temple.

After a few moments, Melessa smiled at Alex. “Thank you, my darling,” she said as her eyes sparkled like diamonds, showing their true color and brilliance. Alex waited for Melessa’s breathing to calm as she wrapped her tightly in her arms.

“Now, where’s that damn cabin?” Alex asked with a grin.

Melessa pointed south, “That first bungalow is ours”. Alex looked up to see where Melessa indicated. Fifty yards away stood a row of buildings snuggling the shoreline. Melessa stepped back and said with an cheeky grin, “I bet I can beat you!” Then, she turned and ran to the bungalow as Alex gave chase.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alex awoke to steady breathing by her ear. Melessa had curled into her shoulder as she slept, breathing softly in contentment. The moonlight beamed through the luminette privacy sheers covering the windowpanes that ran the entire length of the cabin’s west wall, giving the small bedroom the illusion of spaciousness.

Morphing shadows danced and played off the bridge of Melessa’s nose. Unaware of their tickling performance, she slumbered. Her hair was disarrayed from their love making and it lay across her cheek in soft curls.

Fifty feet from the cabin, the surf pounded a mournful rhythm – beating a solemn cadence of regular thuds like distant cannons. Alex smiled and thought the sea was jealous of the love song her and Melessa’s bodies created a few a hours ago. She pitied the sea for its lonely tune, knowing soon enough the sun would rise and this night would only be a wonderful memory.

Immersed in her new obsession, Alex softly stroked Melessa’s hair over her face as she lay on her back on the queen-sized Zin bed. She was enjoying the quiet moment, relishing the feel of Melessa’s body cradled in her arms. Like a returning hero, victorious from completing an insurmountable deed, Alex felt triumphant and pleased for all of her anxieties, fear and hesitation had been vanquished. Tonight, she had been reborn into the world of love.

The sea sang her a song she had never heard before. Remembering the coldness and dispassion of her recent past, she cradled Melessa tighter in her arms. Her lover’s nubile body, warm and tender against her own was a gift to be treasured. The silk bed sheets covered their lower halves. The white comforter had been kicked off the bed and now lay crumpled on the pale teal carpet.

In the corner beside the bed were two solid wood hardtop night stands and a matching Zin lounge chair with elegant cushioned dark green upholstery. The chair looked as comfortable as the feathered mattress she lay upon. Feeling as if she could sit or lay on them for the rest of her life, Alex mused at her own need for these new sensations as she stroked Melessa’s cheek.

Alex watched the moon’s rays trace Melessa’s outline silhouetting her frame in an exquisite eternal moment. Alex loved looking at Melessa’s nude body – lean and slender, it was smaller, daintier and very feminine, and it cupped her own like a glove.

Alex couldn’t help thinking that soon the sun would rise and this wonderful vacation would creep closer to an end. The thought of Corneas clouded her mood. Alex decided to push these negative thoughts from her mind. She wanted to think about more pleasant delights.

She leaned in to brush her lips to Melessa’s forehead, pressing them to warm skin she inhaled deeply.

Melessa stirred with a soft moan. She lifted her head from Alex’s shoulder.

“Is it morning yet?” Melessa asked with her eyes half closed.

“No. The sun isn’t up yet.” Melessa stretched briefly then curled back into Alex’s shoulder. Once again, her breathing returned to a soft even rhythm.

Placing her hand under Melessa’s chin, Alex guided her lover’s face closer for a kiss. Melessa purred as she kissed her back. Alex decided not to waste another moment. She ran her hand down Melessa’s back and cupped her buttocks. Melessa pressed harder into the kiss just as the first rays of morning uncurled across the horizon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1420 HOURS SUNDAY
06.31.3515 Cur-tis4

The bluff stood shielded from the southern winds by a line of cypress tress, running diagonally almost in a straight row from where the pine forest receded, to the summit’s crest. Curpertous, stood straight up in the sky, shining down, warming the air and the new smells that tickled Alex’s nostrils. All the while, a white-capped sea lay beneath stretching out along the peninsula, towards where sky and water meet.

“I don’t think I will ever forget the vastness of it.” Plucking a blade of grass and placing it to her nose, Alex inhaled as she felt it’s prickly texture between her fingers. From above in the afternoon sky, gulls circled squawking, hoping for leftovers. Their wings spread out on the wind, pushing them up and down like kites.

“I love it here. It’s so peaceful and relaxing. It’s just my favorite place in the whole system.” Melessa knelt down upon the plaid green and red picnic blanket as she prepared lunch. Alex watched her delicate hands with slender fingers place food items from prepackaged plastic containers on two paper plates.

“Do you like wine?” Melessa asked as she placed a piece of fried chicken on a plate.

“Wine? I don’t know, never had any,” Alex answered. Her tone was light and easy like this summer day. While reclining on her left side on one elbow, she looked westward. Three hundred and fifty feet below, white caps bounced from wave to wave.

The water was a mystery to her. It was like a living entity unto itself, a complete and determined, uninhibited rolling blanket of blue. The real mystery was what lay beneath it. What kind of creatures glided within its bowels, in it’s currents and underwater rivers? They seemed so foreign compared to the land dwellers like herself; gilled water breathers with air sacks for bouyancy. Fins instead of arms and legs, cold-blooded, savage carnivorous entities, having one purpose- to eat or be eaten. Yesterday, Alex could sympathize with their barbarism. Today, she looked beyond what was tangible, redefining the possibilities of what could be; what might be if she gave it a chance. She wanted to give Melissa a chance, to allow her to enter where no one had gone before. To rip open her empty shell of a heart and fill it with, what? Love she mused. What was love she wondered?

“This is Ecco Domani 3515, a very good year.” Melsessa laughed as she prattled on about some grape colored bottle. Alex did not attempt to understand her point but half listened anyway. Her thoughts were on the water and how she wanted to be in it again, to feel its sensations coursing across her flesh, feeling every microsecond of its pleasure. She wanted to feel cool instead of constant warm, the taste of its saltiness rather than the blandness of the Halo room rivers she kayaked. She yearned to venture to some unknown place and find and know its treasures.

Melessa was like the sea, calm, beautiful but still a mystery. Yes, Alex had tasted and dove deep into Melessa’s flesh, but there was still more she wanted to know. Like the ocean that lay before her, Alex wanted to conquer Melessa. She needed her, not only in a clinging sexual craving sort of waybut desiring to breathe Melessa in like life sustaining oxygen. Alex also needed to conquer Melessa sexually until she was totally dependent, like some need for an illegal drug. This desire was quite strong and she liked this new sensation of control, knowing she was the only one who could take Melessa to that plateau of ecstasy.

Uncorking the bottle then pouring the pale liquid into a long stemmed glass, Melessa offered it to Alex. “This you will love I’m sure.” Alex reached for the glass and took a sip.

“Am I right?” Melessa queried as she too poured herself a glass.

“Yes, it is really good. I hope you brought more than one bottle?” Melessa dug into the lunch basket and brandished another bottle. “Just in case,” she said as she raised her glass in a toast. Taking a deep breath Melessa paused, blinked and then asked, “Do you know how precious you are to me my darling?”

Alex’s heart thumped like a flat tire on the interstate. She trembled as she placed her glass to Melessa’s and asked softly, “Am I?” She stared at Melessa while taking a gulp of the warm liquid that snapped her taste buds to attention.

“Of course you are, you silly.” Smiling, Melessa then looked down and picked up one of the two prepared plates and offered it to Alex.

Alex sat up and looked at the food. “It looks good. What is it?” She took the plate from Melessa as she squared it on her knee.

“Corn on the cob, potato salad, fried chicken and a roll.” Picking up a chicken leg Melessa took a bite. “Hmmm that is so good,” she remarked as she chewed with enjoyment.

Alex picked up a three-pronged fork and sampled some of the potato salad.

“Is it not heaven?” Meslessa asked with her mouth full of chicken.

“Yummy! Could I have some more wine?” Alex held up her empty glass waiting for Melessa to swallow.

Melessa poured without a word. She seemed to be enjoying herself unaware of the ripples she just cast into Alex’s serene pond of delusional control.

Now, Alex mind whirled like the wind on the waves below, frothing and bubbling with confusion as to her next move. The indecisions of the moment led her to down her food like a ravenous animal while gulping down yet another glass of wine.

Alex’s head started to spin and she felt weak in the knees. Putting down her empty plate, she got up slowly and walked over to the precipice. Looking down at the beach below, she felt dizzier still.

Melessa followed and took her by the hand. “What’s wrong Alex?”

Alex turned and looked down to meet Melessa’s frown of concern. How could she reveal her true thoughts and feelings to this woman? What would Melessa think if she knew the truth? Alex was scared witless that Melessa would see her for her true self, a frightened child who didn’t know what to do or say.

Alex shook her head, paused and then said, “nothing”. She held down her head as though ashamed of letting even the most infantile emotion be expressed. As though, if she said her true feelings, she would be sent to some stockade or prison planet.

Melessa let go of Alex’s hand and touched her check ever so softly. “Do you feel anything for me Alex?” Her voice cracked when she said the words. Her green eyes misted as she squinted from the sun. Her half smile faded as she waited for Alex to answer.

Alex turned, looking surprised by the question. Her mouth was closed tight as though her jaws were welded shut. She didn’t know how to answer. What if she expressed herself badly, would not Melessa think her a fool or worse, a cad? All she knew at this moment is how desperately she wanted to hold her, to wrap Melessa in her arms. It was only then that Alex would feel safe and free. It was only then she felt courageous, strong and invincible. At this moment, she realized Melessa fulfilled her. She had been such a hollow shell that was now filled with love, filled with Melessa’s love. Alex was still too frightened to utter a single word or a plausible syllable of explanation.

Melessa took Alex’s hand and led her back to the picnic blanket. She gestured for Alex to sit as she knelt down on her knees, placing the food containers back into the basket. Afterwards she leaned back on her heels and took a deep breath. “I understand Alex,” she said shaking her head as she put the last container into the picnic basket. Her demeanor was calm and she moved slowly as though in heavy thought.

Alex wanted to say something, anything but no words formed on her tongue. She sensed Melissa’s sadness but was unable to comfort her for fear of confrontation. She turned and looked back at the water just as Melessa started to speak.

“I understand Alex. You don’t need to be afraid,” Melessa said as she gazed at Alex with a serious frown on her brow.

“You understand what?” Alex asked as her eyes darted back to meet Melessa’s as a tight knot formed in her stomach.

Melessa took a long breath then stared past Alex and said, “It’s OK. Really, I understand you don’t feel the same. I guess I just expected too much since this is our only meeting…” Then she exhaled as her lips formed to her continue explanation.

Alex interrupted. “You know nothing about me Melessa and you know even less how I feel.” To her surprise the words collected on her tongue, then suddenly escaped without her control.

Melessa turned her head to face Alex. She said not a word as she waited. Then after a couple of minutes had passed she said, “And. . .? ”

Alex stared into Melessa’s moist eyes. She knew she must explain what she was feeling. But the problem was she never felt anything her whole life. How could she explain something that she knew nothing about? How could she verbalize something that had no verbiage?

The words rattled off her tongue like a creaky wagon traveling down a potholed dirt road. She wanted to swallow them down for fear of Melessa’s rejection if she knew the true Alex. But the words were formed and released without her command. This time Alex did not speak with her intellect, but with her heart.

“It is rather difficult to formulae what I need to say. I have thought of nothing else for weeks. You see, Melessa, I had not planned on feeling anything for you. There is this terrible need to want to do the right thing but what is the right thing? I have always obeyed the rules. I’ve always been a loyal employee, dedicated to one objective, one goal, to rise to a station that would reflect my abilities and knowledge, to command others for the greater good of the company. I have spent my whole life trying to achieve this. Now, at last, all my dreams and desires have been fulfilled. I have accomplished my goal. I am a Section Administrative Chief, stationed on one of the most prestigious posts in our known galaxy. There is only one minor problem with this scenario. You!”

Alex swallowed hard then took in a deep breath and continued. “Ever since you first contacted me I have known there is something about you that I simply cannot resist. You have dominated my mind ever since that first communication. I have tried to deny you but this feeling is too strong.” Alex paused as a tear collected at the corner of her eye. She blinked releasing it as it spiraled down her cheek.

Melessa reached for Alex’s hand and tried to speak. Alex pulled her hand back and shook her head no, then continued. “Let me get this out or I will never find the strength to utter what I feel again.”

Melessa placed her hand back onto her lap and listened quietly.

“The rational thing would have been to have you turned over to the authorizes. I broke the rules and I lied. Now, I come here and I have done things with you I have never done with anyone. It is rather a revelation to realize I am not what I have perceived myself to be all these years. I am a despicable asshole who cares nothing for anyone but my own selfish desires. I have come to the realization that what I have thought, believed, desired my entire life is a lie. Forgive me Melessa but I love you. I love you more than anything… The company, this place, even more than my pitiful life. You are more important to me than the air in my lungs, the blood surging through my veins or the cold lifeless organ that pumps it. Forgive me because I need you.” At that her mouth trembled as the tears flowed down her pale face. Alex reached for Melessa, folding her into her arms like a child. Melessa wept silently, trembling like a frightened puppy in thunderstorm. “Forgive me my dear sweet Melessa for I need you more than life itself.”

“It’s ok darling. Don’t you see, don’t you know how desperately I wanted to hear you speak these words? How long I’ve waited to hear them and now that you’ve said them, how happy I am? There is nothing to forgive Alex.” Melessa clung tightly to Alex’s strong arms. She wept in happiness as she buried her head in Alex’s chest.

After a moment, Alex pulled Melessa back and placed her right index finger under Melessa’s chin. “I am afraid Melessa. I am afraid I will lose you. ”

Melessa shook her head and tried to curl back into Alex’s arms but Alex placed her hands on her shoulders holding her at bay.

“Let me finish, Melessa,” Alex whispered, “if the company finds out what I have done, you and I will go to prison. If they find out about us, our true feelings for each other, we will lose everything.”

“We don’t have to work for NFC Alex. We can live anywhere.” Melessa stated with a curt smile on her lips.

“Where would we go and what would we do? I’ve been with NFC all my life. I don’t know anything else.” Alex felt scared. She was treading on unfamiliar ground.

“We could go to Telos and. . .”

“Telos! Be an independent? As if that would be a good career choice.” Alex balked back her rebuttal as she got up from the picnic blanket and walked towards the cliff’s edge.

“Others have done it. I would be willing to go anywhere with you Alex. It doesn’t matter where we go. We could even stay here. Don’t you see Alex, it doesn’t matter where we go or what we do as long as we do it together?”

Alex swung around towards Melessa. “What would I possibly do on this rock…fish?”

“They have a communications department here, you could apply.”

“I can only imagine the technology, ha! What an absurdity.” Alex shook her head as she bit her lower lip.

Melessa was silent for a long time then spoke with a reaffirmed conviction that penetrated into Alex’s heart. “Whatever we decide we don’t have to decide today, this minute. I don’t want to lose you, Alex, after it has taken so long to find you. I need you so very much. I need your touch and to feel your skin on mine. Regardless if we decide to leave the NFC or stay, I am willing to do anything to be with you for whatever time we have left.” With that said, Melessa got up and walked over to Alex and pulled her down into her arms again and kissed her ever so tenderly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2058 HOURS MONDAY
07.01.3515 Cur-tis4

Cupertous rested upon the western hillside before descending, turning a violet horizon chartreuse then darkening to crimson and, finally, to a mournful black. Alex stood at the tide’s edge watching the last remaining flickers of light cross into night. Sadness and despair ached within her breast as she witnessed this day’s end. It was only when she felt Melessa’s hand grasp hers that her spirit lift

She turned and smiled into Melessa’s eyes. They sparkled with spectacular brilliance in the half-light. Melessa’s silky hair clung to her face. This sweet perfect face that Alex knew belonged to the most loving person she had ever known. As they stood on the beach, they did not speak. There was no need for words between them. Each understood the other’s emotions by an inner knowledge they possessed. Each felt they had known the other forever. Where once isolation ruled, at this moment, there was great delight and wonderment in the knowledge that their search for the other had ended. They were like divided halves that had been rejoined, making them whole and complete. Even the thought of separation was as alien as the duty stations they served.

Alex had come to recognize Melessa as what the ancients would call her soulmate. Perhaps it was the simplicity of this quaint little fishing village, nestled on the southern part of the Nubian Peninsula, that had brought to the surface dormant emotions long before drowned by Alex’s clinical, practical and protected world on Corneas.

But what about tomorrow? She would return to Corneas to pack and Melessa to Amber Duce. Would she miss the smell of the sea and the colors of Cur-tis4? She would certainly miss Melessa’s laughter and tender morning kisses waking her up to a new day of unsurpassed love and happiness, experiencing new adventures indoors and out with her love. And oh, how Alex adored the wind. On Corneas there is no wind, only piped air. Tasteless, clinical, synthetic, processed, odorless air. Manufactured, purified, sanitized and kept at a constant temperature.

Alex felt a sharp pain, like a dull knife cutting deep within her chest. Just the thought of not holding, not kissing or touching Melessa was like being cast upon a deserted island without nourishment or protection from the elements. How could Alex live, after being tenderly loved by this woman? Their passionate lovemaking was indescribably beautiful, and Alex knew she could not exist without it. Sex in the past was just that, sex. Unemotional, un-giving, totally selfish without thought other than for release. She now understood this new world of giving instead of taking, that pleasure could be found in surrender to another. In the past, these revelations would be considered shameful expressions of one’s emotions. To even acknowledge these emotions was considered indecent.

Now, after tasting flesh hot with the nectar of sweet passion, Alex realized her need to take Melessa into her mouth again and again, caressing her with her tongue. Biting gently then sucking until Melessa screamed in orgasm, losing herself in climax. It was only when Melessa came that Alex felt the satisfaction that ignited her own passion to take Melessa higher until she was spent. Then only would Alex allow Melessa to satisfy Alex’s arousal, taking Alex where no machine or sex partner could ever go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0657 HOURS TUESDAY
07.02.3515 CORNEAS

Alex waited for Melessa to direct-link. It was almost the end of Melessa’s shift and still the cursor blinked steadily, like her heartbeat, restless and true. Alex realized frustratedly that Melessa was not coming online so she disengaged the link.

“Computer, send a message to Melessa2260cc Falcon15.5 Amber Duce Hypertyme System,” Alex requested. The monitor blinked: WORKING. STATE MESSAGE.

“Sorry I missed you, Melessa. I hope we can direct-link tomorrow. End message, send.” The screen blinked: COMPLIED. MESSAGE SENT.

Alex exited the sublet and left the ICC without a word to her staff. As she walked towards her quarters, she thought about the boredom of her existence. Alex longed to be back on Cur-tis4 with its cloudy mornings and sunny afternoons. Its enchanting blue sky and wild flowers on the dunes seemed more real than this fabricated world of arduous work, addictive play and meaningless sex. Alex felt the emptiness of her life. Melessa had brought into her self-absorbed existence the possibility of love, friendship and something long forgotten by her priors … togetherness, tenderness and a joining of souls. Alex now understood what she had been missing. She would not give up her precious love even if it meant her career or her life.

“Good morning!” Steve hailed when she bumped into him. Alex tried not to make eye contact but he stood in the middle of the corridor blocking her path. She finally looked up and tersely returned, “Good morning.” Then she sidestepped around him as if he was nothing more than an obstructing bulkhead.

“Listen, I want to apologize for the other day. I know I acted like a jerk and I just wanted to say I am sorry,” he said contritely. Alex glanced back and said, “Ok, consider yourself forgiven. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am tired.”

“Rough night?” Steve asked. Alex grimaced and replied softly, “Yes.”

“You look like you need to talk, Alex.” Steve said as he kept in step.

“Why do you think that?” Alex asked without looking his way.

“I’m a counselor, and from experience, I would say you could use a cup of coffee and a chat,” Steve offered, “What do you say, Alex? I’m buying. Come on, let me make up for the other day.”

Alex debated for a minute, and agreed, “OK. I probably won’t get any sleep anyway.”

The cafeteria was empty as Alex slumped into one of the chairs while Steve went to the coffee dispenser.

“How do you take yours?” Steve asked as he poised his finger over the selection.

“Cream, no sugar.” Alex supplied. Her head ached and her heart felt heavy. She could not understand why Melessa would not direct-link. A thousand thoughts raced through her tired brain but mostly she felt abandoned, confused and alone. The only clear explanation was that Melessa did not feel the same. Maybe she was fooling herself into thinking that a beautiful young woman would want her. After all, she was over forty years Melessa’s senior.

“You know, I like these new machines. They make a hell of a cuppa.” Steve exclaimed with a wide grin as he handed her the foil packet.

Alex did not comment on the culinary qualities of the NFC’s coffee dispensers. She took a sip of the brown liquid and continued to stare at the tabletop.

“It can’t be that bad, Alex. So, tell me what’s wrong?” Steve waited for Alex to begin.

“I don’t know where to start.” Alex said as she picked at a scratch on the table.

“Try at the beginning,” Steve urged.

Alex sighed, “This is difficult. I met someone and…” she paused as her eyes welled up. Alex took a deep breath and continued, “I recently … started a relationship and I have fallen in love … but I think that this other person may not feel the same. It’s tearing me up inside and I don’t know what to do or how to fix it.” A tear fell as she spoke.

“I wondered why you’re so glum. What happened?” Steve asked gently.

“I don’t know why I even mentioned it … I am sorry.” Alex sipped her coffee to ease her dry throat. “But … I never planned to get involved, you know, it just happened. It’s funny but I never thought I would feel anything for anyone. Now look at me. Helplessly in love with a woman forty years my junior and it’s killing me. I may never see her again.” More tears threatened to spill from her eyes.

“I can see you are very upset but don’t put the cart before the horse, Alex. You should talk to this woman before you give up. My advice is to try and find out what is going on. It might simply be her job or she may have fallen ill. I mean, try to think more positively, Ok?” Steve tried to reassure her.

“Easy to say. I would bet you have never been in this predicament.” Alex said harshly, narrowing her eyes at him.

“True, but I have counseled many individuals with similar problems. You know, Alex, these personal relationships never really work out. It’s just not practical in our environment in the present day. The family unit is a dead issue and has been replaced by the corporations. Corporations are the true family. What else do we need? The NFC provides everything! There isn’t any more hunger or unemployment…everyone has a job and a purpose. Life is good, Alex. Why spoil it with something that has been proven centuries ago not to last. People just don’t fit together, we are too diverse. To prove my point, just the other day, I have been counseling some miners from Cur-tis4. One of them developed this really cool Halo-program that had all the miners fall in love with a Halo-person and …”

Alex interrupted, “You said miners from Cur-tis4?”

“Yeah, I am counseling fourteen of them. They were shipped over because their psychologist on Cur-tis4 was hospitalized. Anyway, these guys are all going nuts over this Halo-woman one of the miners developed. It’s insane, really.” Steve chuckled.

“Cur-tis4 is being mined? That’s impossible!” Alex stated in disbelief.

“Hmm, Why do you say that?” Steve asked.

“Because I was just on Cur-tis4 last weekend. I spent my three-day holiday there, that’s why.” Alex said.

“Not on Cur-tis4. It’s been dead for almost a thousand years. You know, once they start mining a planet it becomes uninhabitable.” Steve stated with a concerned look on his face.

“I am telling you, Steve, I was just there last weekend. It’s an incredible place, really beautiful.” Alex had a frightened look on her face.

“It may have been beautiful once but I was there yesterday and I am telling you, Alex, it’s dead now. Dead and buried. Just your average putrid sink hole!” Steve insisted.

“This is un-fucking-believable! I teleported there last weekend and had a wonderful stay and …this is fucking unbelievable!”

“You teleported somewhere but it wasn’t Cur-tis4,” Steve said.

“You’re right, Steve. My pay records will show a teleport. I will check and see where the fuck I really went.” Alex shouted, her voice reverberating around the walls of the cafeteria. Alex smacked her fist on the lunchroom table. Her stomach was churning like a volcano ready to erupt as her mind spun with plausabilities.

She could not believe she had been duped. All she could do was speculate on Melessa’s intention. Had she really been played? Was Melessa manipulating Alex by using sex, but to what end? Was she the mastermind behind the marketeer’s ring? Did Melessa engineer the whole scenario when she realized the company was on to her? Perhaps this was the reason she didn’t want her name mentioned in Alex’s report.

The dots of the puzzle started to connect. “This is how she knew about the compacted transmissions,” Alex grasped, “she gave false information to lead me in another direction while she carried out her plans.”

“What plan…? I don’t understand Alex, please explain?” Steve stared intently into Alex’s eyes as a bewildered look crossed his pale face.

Alex told Steve as he sat, dumbfounded. She started explaining the whole story to him, failing to notice the security camera focusing in as they talked.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1100 HOURS WEDNESDAY
07.03.3515

Alex walked into Corneas’s core room without notice of Mary & Steve. Stepping lightly she hurried to her sublet and commanded the system to direct-link with Melessa. She was determined to find out the truth.

Melessa2260: Greetings and salutations, Alex.

Alex8796: Hello, Melessa.

Melessa2260: How are you this evening?

Alex8796: Somewhat perplexed.

Melessa2260: Oh?

Alex8796: What is going on, Melessa?

Melessa2260: What do you mean, Alex?

Alex8796: You haven’t contacted me since I got back from Cur-tis4. I waited for you yesterday.

Melessa2260: I’m sorry. It’s been a madhouse over here. We’ve had to realign our dish and you know the problems that can cause. I hoped you would have seen the memo about the temporary shutdown.

Alex8796: So, the problems have been resolved then?

Melessa2260: Thankfully, yes! I’m sorry for not contacting you earlier. We were completely offline. Proctor7 had to handle our load till we were up and running again. Please forgive me. I would have contacted you before this. In fact, our system just came online and I chanced a call to you. I am so pleased you are there. I want you to know I’ve missed you terribly darling.

Alex8796: Melessa?

Melessa2260: Yes?

Alex8796: Where did we go?

Melessa2260: I don’t understand your question, Alex.

Alex8796: Where did we teleport to?

Melessa2260: Are you joking? You know we spent three lovely days and two sexy nights on Cur-tis4.

Alex8796: I didn’t teleport to Cur-tis4, so, where did we spend those three days?

Melessa2260: I am at a loss here, Alex. I don’t know what you mean.

Alex8796: I checked my pay record and there was no debit to my account. Where did we go? I know we went somewhere. Please tell me.

Melessa2260: You know there can be accounting errors or it could simply be a mix-up.

Alex8796: I checked with the teleportation Sector Chief and the records show I teleported to an undisclosed destination..”

Melessa2260: Sounds like you may have a misaligned dish too. You may need to check out your rotationary systems.

Alex8796: That’s bullshit, Melessa! I checked. Cur-tis4 is a mining colony. The atmosphere is unbreathable. I know I spent three days somewhere with you but it wasn’t on Cur-tis4. Tell me the truth! Stop lying! You know our disc isn’t misaligned. Everything you are saying is covering up what you are really up too. Just stop lying Melessa. I can’t take it anymore.

Alex felt hot tears roll down her cheaks as she typed the words. Her heart felt as though it been yanked from her chest and all
that was left was a hole of pain.

Silence.

Alex8796: Lies, Melessa! That is all you have been handing me from the beginning. I cannot believe this shit! You’ve lied about everything and you said you loved me… you said we went to Cur-tis4… when are you going to tell me the truth??

Melessa2260: I wasn’t lying when I said I loved you. I do love you, Alex, so very much. You have no idea how precious you are to me.

Alex8796: Really? How can I believe anything you say, Melessa?

Melessa2260: I wouldn’t lie about loving you, Alex. You are too important to me.

Alex8796: I find that hard to believe. Is your real name even Melessa?

Melessa2260: Yes, my name is Melessa.

Alex8796: But you are not stationed on Amber Duce are you? I talked to the Crew Chief on Amber Duce and even though it shows on our records here… How did you do this? I’ve checked. I ordered a celerbal scan. There is no record of you anywhere in the system. Falsifying information, downloading that information into our mainframe is in incomprehensible act Melessa. I think you had better explain before I turn you over to the authorities.

Melessa2260: Ask your questions, Alex, and I will answer them truthfully.

Alex8796: I want to know where did we go? I know it wasn’t Cur-tis4.

Melessa2260: You were teleported to Halo-Room 14. A Cur-tis4 Halo-program was introduced to my system on 07.06.15.3515. I simply refined it and utilized it for our enjoyment. I liked this program because I once visited Cur-tis4.

Alex8796: When did you visit Cur-tis4? It’s been a dead for several hundred years.

Melessa2260: I went there on a vacation with my family seven hundred and twenty years ago.

Alex stared at the screen stupified.

Alex8796: 720 YEARS! No one lives that long, Melessa. What are you, some kind of machine??

Melessa2260: I am organic, like you.

Alex8796: But are you humanoid?

Melessa2260: I no longer have human form, I am changed.

Alex8796: To what?

Melessa2260: I was selected by the NFC to be part of a special project. I, as well as hundreds of my countrymen, were selected because of our generous nature and intelligence. It was the highest honor to be chosen, you see. After my transformation…

Alex8796: Transformation? Where are you, Melessa? What is your exact location right now.

Melessa2260: Here… I am here on Corneas. I have been here since my transformation. I am the main control system and I control all the systems on Corneas.

Alex8796: You are a machine?!

Melessa2260: No. I am organic but I no longer have human form as I already told you, Alex.

Alex8796: What do you look like now?

Melessa2260: Why don’t you see for yourself?

Alex read those words in disbelief. Everything up to this exact moment was about accepting the fact that she loved Melessa more than her own life, the company, that had meant everything to her. How could Melessa be so cold to have fooled her into being something she wasn’t? She realized she had to see this Melessa for her true self, not some fairy tale that she created to lure Alex into this insanity. Alex realized what she must do. She would pull the plug. She would stop Melessa from ever doing this again. To save some future employee the pain and lies she had endured. Melessa would never play her little game again.

Alex8796: How do I get to where you are?

Melessa2260: First, I need to ask one question.

Alex8796: What is it?

Melessa2260: Before, when we were on Cur-tis4, did you love me, Alex?

Alex8796: Yes…but you lied to me, Melessa. How can I ever trust you again?

Melessa2260: Do you still have any love in your heart for that Melessa?

Alex8796: I am confused…I cannot truthfully answer your question. I just wish you hadn’t lied to me. Before…I loved you so very much but now I don’t know what I feel.

Melessa2260: Underneath the main console is a hatch. I will unlock it for you. There is a crawlspace through there that leads to a ladder. I am beneath you, directly under the CORE room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alex hurried out of the COM chair. She knelt and searched under the sublet’s console. There was a hatch underneath, just as Melessa said. Alex opened the hatch. It was dimly lit within. She entered the hatch and crawled down a long oval tube to the ladder. As she crawled through the tube, she could hear her own breathing. It sounded loud and hollow, and Alex felt as though she was the only person on Corneas.

Alex was afraid to continue onwards. The conduit reminded her of the dream. She debated calling security. What if Melessa was setting her up? What was at the end of the conduit? Was Melessa leading her to her doom? Morbid curiousity got the better of her and she continued towards the blackness ahead. Alex realized her dream meant she would face her fear and her destiny, clinging to the hope that at the other end she would find Melessa; the sweet Melessa she met on Cur-tis4.

At the end of the conduit was a wide-open space below, black as pitch. Alex felt cold metal on the bottom of the conduit. It was the ladder. She stepped on the first rung and manoeuvred her other foot below. She descended the ladder, breathing hard in fear and exertion. Despite the earlier coolness, Alex was perspiring heavily.

The air was becoming warmer and heavier. Alex glanced down as thick heavy air covered her like a warm blanket. She could see a dim light in the distance but could not make out any shapes. The only thing she could hear over the pounding of her heart was her breathing and the rustling of her uniform as she brushed against the ladder.

At the bottom of the ladder was complete darkness. Alex stepped warily off the ladder. She felt the hard surface of the sub floor under her boots. In the distance, a light glowed dimly. Her boots squeaked as she slowly moved towards the light with her arms outstretched. Then, in an instant, she was there and Alex could see her surroundings.

In the center of the sub-floor was a dome. It was softly lit and there appeared to be a mist streaming up from water jets at its base. Alex placed her palms on the warm glass and whispered, “Melessa?”

Something tapped on the glass from the inside, startling Alex. She jumped back and choked out, “Melessa, is that you?”

She heard Melessa’s voice answer, “Yes, Alex.”

“I can’t see you, there is too much condensation on the glass.” Alex anguished.

“One second, please. I will turn on the fans.” Melessa said. Alex heard the whine of a motor and the mist started to dissipate.

“I’ve been watching you for a very long time, Alex. You are truly special, just like me.” Melessa said in a soft soothing voice. As the mist receded, Alex could make out one finger attached to a slender colorless appendage. Its covering of translucent skin was thin and she could see blue veins pulsating just under the surface. As the dome finally cleared, Alex’s jaw dropped with shock. A large eye, five-feet in diameter stared back at her.

“Don’t be alarmed by my appearance, Alex. As you can see, I am transformed and now I am pure intellect.”

Alex started to cry. Her precious Melessa was a giant eye with two skinny arms and one digit attached at each end.

“Come. Be with me, Alex. We can be together forever. I love you, my darling. I want you to be my eternal mate. Too long I have waited for you. Come and be transformed so we can share our love, our life and our intellect.” Melessa implored.

Alex cried, “Can’t you change back, Melessa?”

“No, my darling, but you can become like me. I love you, Alex, and I want you to be with me forever. I know you love me, as I love you. Let there be a joining of our souls and our being.” Melessa cooed.

“But why, Melessa? Why have you done this to me? I loved you as you were and now you ask me to become like you.” Alex openly wept in despair.

“From the moment you picked your sexual partner in the Halo-Pods I knew you were the one, Alex. You didn’t know it but you were picking me. Each time you selected the same woman, she looked almost as I did before my transformation. Blonde hair, green eyes, 5’3″ small frame. I’ve watched you through the years, Alex, and I’ve come to love you … ”

“Then it was you I felt watching me.” Alex wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve. It was you the whole time?”

“Yes my darling it was me. I need you in my life Alex. Join me and we will be together always.”

“How could you let them do this to you my beautiful Melessa?” Alex fell to her knees weeping openly as Melessa cooed, “You love me, Alex! I know this as surely as you loved that Melessa on Cur-tis4. You love me as I love you. Come be with me, my darling forever an ever. . . ”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0915 HOURS MONDAY
07.15.3515 CORNEAS

Tom2036 was showing another candidate for the Crew Chief position the CORE room. Workers were busy installing more consoles and chairs while trying to stay out of Tom’s way.

“As you can see, Jim, we are setting up a second Master Computer System. We are the only relay station in the known universe to have twin controllers. I am proud to say we have the ability to do…” Tom babbled on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beneath the CORE room, the dome now contained two eyes with their skinny appendages entwined; monitoring and controlling all aspects on Corneas. It was a special joining of love that would continue forever.

 

The End

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